Chauncey DeVega

This doctor says Trump’s not crazy: He doesn’t even ‘remember what happened yesterday’

Many of the United States and the world's leading mental health experts have concluded that Donald Trump is mentally unwell, pathological, dangerous and perhaps even a sociopath or a psychopath.

This conclusion has been reached after more than four years of observing Trump's public behavior. Other mental health professionals, most notably the president's niece, Mary Trump, who is a psychologist, as well as Dr. Justin Frank (author of "Trump on the Couch") have reached the same conclusion after expertly observing Trump's behavior for years or decades.

After being hospitalized several weeks ago for COVID treatment, during which he was administered an experimental cocktail of drugs, Trump has behaved in an even more erratic and aberrant manner.

Donald Trump's mind and mental health are like the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl. These last days before Election Day are a countdown for a man who, if he is defeated, will experience a meltdown that spreads his poison all over the world.

As documented by the Washington Post, Trump has lied more than 20,000 times while president. In these last few weeks, his lies are becoming more frequent and outrageous.

Trump is now claiming that he somehow defeated the coronavirus pandemic. In reality, the United States is falling deeper into a season of death. The virus is spreading largely unchecked, with more than 227,000 people dead in total and upwards of 70,000 new cases a day.

During his second and final presidential debate with Joe Biden, Trump sounded remarkably callous and cruel in his discussions of the death and suffering caused by his negligence and incompetence during the pandemic.

Because fueling his ego, grandiosity and malignant narcissism are more important than the lives of others, Trump continues to host rallies where his followers gather unmasked by the thousands. Public health experts have now directly tied Trump's events to the spread of the virus and resulting illnesses and deaths. Trumpism literally is a death cult; his followers are human biological weapons.

On Tuesday, in Omaha, Nebraska, Trump again showed that he does not care about the health and safety of his followers. After a rally at an airfield, many of Trump's supporters were left behind in freezing temperatures when the buses they were promised did not appear. Many people were forced to walk several miles from the rally site back to their vehicles, and dozens of them required medical attention.

As president, Donald Trump has significant influence over the behavior of the American people. His mental pathologies have infected tens of millions of his followers, and have caused PTSD and other forms of stress and trauma for those Americans who oppose his regime.

But for all of Donald Trump's evident mental pathologies, could it be that he is even more dangerous than previously understood? That's the contention of Dan McAdams, who is the Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Psychology and a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University. He is the author of almost 300 articles and chapters as well as seven books, including "The Art and Science of Personality Development" and "The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By."

McAdams' work has been featured in leading media outlets such as the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, CNN and elsewhere. His most recent book is "The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump: A Psychological Reckoning."

In this conversation McAdams warns that Donald Trump's greatest threat is caused by the fact that he exists only in the present moment, a man without a future or a past who lacks any sense of a life narrative, story or ethics beyond winning at all costs. This aspect of Donald Trump is the greatest threat to the country and the world.

McAdams also cautions that Donald Trump is a unique and strange person who defies any singular category of mental diagnosis, and shares his concern that leaders like Donald Trump inevitably bring ruin and destruction to the countries they lead.

But all may not be lost. At the end of this conversation, McAdams offers hope that Trump's followers will be dejected and broken once he is removed from office, and that America's political and cultural institutions will be strong enough for healing to begin.

You can also listen to my conversation with Dan McAdams on my podcast "The Truth Report" or through the player embedded below.


This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How have you made sense of the Age of Trump?

For the first time here in America we have a full-blooded authoritarian leader. This has happened in other countries at other times, most notably the 1930s in Italy and Germany, of course. But for Americans this was all news. I've spent several years trying to understand Donald Trump using the standard vocabulary, nomenclature, ideas and theories from psychological science to make sense of him and his life. But they have only proved somewhat helpful in that quest.

I end up just being flummoxed by the strangeness of the man. I believe that he does not neatly fit the categories. He's not the typical malignant narcissist. He's unbelievably disagreeable, but in ways that nobody would ever fathom. There are so many things about Donald Trump that are peculiar. My book is entitled "The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump." I cannot help but to emphasize the strangeness of Donald Trump — it is as if he is a type of one-off when it comes to human nature.

Even at this point, there are many millions of Americans who are still in shock that Trump even became president.

The 50% or so of the American populace who are strongly opposed to Donald Trump never got over election night 2016. It was a traumatic experience. It was an event that people have flashbacks over. People are in therapy about what happened that night.

Many people keep hoping against hope that somehow it is all going to go away — that Trump's time in office is this weird anomaly that happened to American culture and somehow we are going to go back to some type of pre-Trump normal. I do not believe things will be the same again in this country. What many Americans will never get over is the feeling that this is not the country they thought they lived in before Trump was elected.

There is this repeated cycle of hope and despair with America and the Age of Trump. People are hopeful that some scandal, or his crimes against democracy and the country, will stop him. But that never happens. If anything, impeachment and every revelation of his wrongdoing has made him stronger. What does that cycle of ups and downs, hope and disappointment, do to people?

Going back to the 1970s, Donald Trump wins when he wears people out. Trump's modus operandi has always been to be more persistent, to hang in there and to run out the clock. As president he tried to win by outlasting everyone else. He did this in the real estate market. He did this to his creditors in the 1990s.

Trump has shown unlimited energy to promote himself. I do not believe that there is anyone else on the planet with that much self-promoting energy.

Every day, Donald Trump he is fighting what he considers to be a battle of survival, and then he either wins or loses. Trump has been like that his whole life. Trump wakes up the next day and starts all over again with that behavior. Trump does not even remember what happened yesterday. Other human beings remember what happened on Monday when it is Tuesday. As human beings we develop long-term narratives about how our lives work. But not Mr. Trump. For him it is new every day.

It is not a cognitive deficit. Trump has always behaved that way. He's always had this tremendous ability to just forget about the past and to deal with the present moment. That is part of what makes Trump so powerful in the minds of his supporters. He's not hiding anything. He's not thinking about yesterday. He's not worried about two weeks from now. He looks at the crowd, and he's 100% all there in the moment.

Outside observers often think, "Oh my God, there is something behind all of that performance and behavior!" The answer is no. Trump is always what we see. He is Donald Trump playing "Donald Trump" all the time.

Donald Trump is totally authentic as he fakes his way through the role. Trump is a perfectly authentic fake. There is nothing behind the mask. Trump has boundless energy because he does not have to worry about yesterday or tomorrow.

What does Trump's living in the "forever present" with no thought for the future or the past do to a country in terms of truth, reality and decision-making more generally?

It dooms a democracy. It dooms a culture and the broader development and health of a culture. Democracy and society depend on people taking some sort of long-term view. If there is no long-term vision or understanding of reality, then what works for such a person like Donald Trump is whatever he or she needs at that moment to win the fight.

For example, on a given Monday Trump will say, "Nancy Pelosi is the worst person on the planet." On Wednesday, it is a totally different fight. He does not have any memory of Monday and thus he will then say, "Well, you know what, Nancy and I were getting along today." And on Friday, Donald Trump is in another place. It is all moment to moment.

Other people do not live that way. It is not sustainable. To survive long-term a people, a nation, cannot have leaders who behave like Donald Trump.

Many mental health professionals would respond that such behavior shows that Donald Trump is mentally pathological.

People can label said behavior however they would like to. But here is what we must take into account in these discussions about mental illness and Donald Trump. Any of the diagnostic categories are supposed to describe a compromise in one's functioning such that a person cannot get along in life and be successful.

Donald Trump is the president of the United States. He clearly has been successful. He has clearly gotten along in life. Moreover, I do not think that Donald Trump suffers from a mental illness. His behavior does not make him upset. His behavior motivates and drives him.

So yes, a person can throw those diagnostic categories about, but they are not helpful in this case. They do not help to explain how Donald Trump came to be. Donald Trump is much stranger than any diagnostic category.

Moreover, let us assume that we label Donald Trump as having narcissistic personality disorder or being a sociopath. Who cares? The labels are interesting to the clinicians, but are we going to say in this country that people who have mental illnesses should not be president?

If that is the conclusion, then Abraham Lincoln should not have been president because he clearly suffered from clinical depression. However, Lincoln used that mental illness in way that was powerful and productive. I do not consider mental illness as a deal-breaker when it comes to public office. But in my mind, Donald Trump is way more strange than any mental illness category that one can apply or create.

We must also grapple with the fact that many "successful" people such as CEOs and other "high-achieving" people are sociopaths. Moreover, sometimes that personality type may be of benefit to them.

That is true. But I am not comfortable with the term "mental illness." Let us discuss instead personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder. Steve Jobs met all nine criteria for narcissistic personality disorder. Only five are sufficient for the diagnosis. But Steve Jobs had other characteristics as well. He was a genius, for one, which helped him negotiate life.

Donald Trump is not a genius. Trump is also not as competent as other high-functioning narcissists we see in the world. And yet Trump has been extraordinarily successful through the use of brute-force leadership. That type of leadership is useful in certain contexts such as the military or sports. But there should also be leadership by expertise. Trump is almost 100% brute-force leadership. I do not believe that the United States has ever had such a president.

Donald Trump, again, is not like other human beings.

I have spent my entire career, some 30 years, studying how people create stories about their lives. This is part of human nature. Each of us is walking around with a story in our minds about how we came to be who we are. The story helps to ground us. It gives us a moral framework and help us make sense of who we are, who we were, who we will be in the future. This a called a "narrative identity."

Trump is the exception. He does not have a story in his mind about how he came to be. This is not a small thing. It is why Trump is able to live in the moment. He is able to play "Donald Trump" the character repeatedly, because there is no animating narrative in his mind about who he is and where his life is going. None.

But again, not having a strong narrative identity — or not having one at all — is not a sign of any particular mental illness. In the DSM there are mentions of "emptiness" and so forth, but that is not necessarily a criterion for mental illness.

It's just something we all assume that just about everybody has, and now we run into an individual who's remarkably strange in that regard. And a lot of people still don't really believe it. They keep thinking there's something else to him. He's strategic. He's playing the long game and so forth. But no. There is no strategic or long game with Donald Trump. Trump is like the alpha chimp who is always playing the short game, a brute-force game, to win at all costs.

What would Donald Trump say if you were to ask him, "Who are you in your own life story?"

People have tried to do that very thing. Going back to the 1980s, journalists and biographers have asked Mr. Trump such questions. He refuses to answer.

Trump scoffs. He changes the subject. He can't answer such questions. Trump will summon a memory from here or there, but the memory does not really reveal anything substantive because in his mind he has just always existed. Trump cannot offer a narrative about how he has become who he is today. Such a narrative makes no sense to him. Such a question also does not make sense to children either.

I have repeatedly argued that Donald Trump the human being does not really exist. He is a character, a symbol without substance, one on which people impose meaning. Is that analysis correct? What would it feel like to be such a person?

Your characterization of Donald Trump is a good one. Of course, Trump is a human being. He's flesh and blood. He's not an apparition. There is a substance and a reality to him there as a human. But when we think of how persons operate in the world, it is not clear to me that Donald Trump would say to you, assuming he knew what the criteria even are, that he is in fact a person.

It is hard to say if Donald Trump is miserable. It is hard to say that he has not done well in life. He is always Donald Trump playing "Donald Trump." There is not a person behind that behavior, or a narrative, or complexity. Donald Trump is a force of sorts, and that is how he sees himself.

Does Donald Trump believe in right and wrong? Is there some type of ethical governor on his behavior?

Donald Trump has a philosophy of life. It is: "Man is the most vicious of all animals, and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat." That's it. That is what he believes. Right from wrong has to be understood in that context. It is Hobbesian. What is right is what wins, what is strong. You either win or you lose. It's victory or defeat.

When Trump says, "Life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat," he does not just mean that life ends in victory or defeat. What Trump really means is that every battle ends in victory or defeat. Life is a series of battles, one after another. Monday, there's a battle, Tuesday, there's a battle, Wednesday, there's a battle. There's victory or defeat in the battle and then you start all over. For Donald Trump there really is no moral framework beyond his version of survival of the strongest.

I don't think he has a moral framework. It's very interesting: How does somebody grow up without one of those things? If he's going to win, everybody else has to lose, so he has to reverse everything that Barack Obama did. Everything. He didn't care about these things, he doesn't even know what they are. He didn't even know what NAFTA was. He just didn't like it because it was something that was around when Obama was around, so he did away with it. Trump does not know what these things are. He just wants to turn it around and go the other way, and that gives him a victory because somebody always has to lose. Alliances like NATO and trade pacts, they make no sense to him. They are ideally win-win propositions. We help you, you help us.

That is not how the world works in Donald Trump's mind. If you're the strongest and the smartest and the most stable genius on the planet, you do not need such relationships. You just win. You have to keep winning.

Trump is version 1.0 of a 21st-century American fascism. What comes next?

I'm not sure there'll be a version two. I am not saying that everything is going to be fine. Democracy in the United States can go into a tailspin. It is very fragile and there is nothing natural about it. If American democracy is failing, then Donald Trump certainly is playing a role in it. But ultimately, I have more faith in the country's political and social American institutions than that. I actually believe that the country will recover from this moment.

In a sense, Donald Trump is part of a much bigger phenomenon. I also do not believe that Donald Trump can be duplicated. I do not imagine a Trump 2.0. But I do imagine that Trump's core base, about 30 million people, who want a Trump 2.0, that will become very frustrated because they will have missed their moment. When Donald Trump is gone, it is going to be very hard for his supporters to recreate the magic that they had with him.

How would Donald Trump respond to being defeated in the 2020 presidential election?

It is very difficult to imagine Donald Trump admitting defeat. He's never done it. In any domain of his life, be it personal life or business life, Trump has never for a moment admitted to any kind of misstep or defeat. Will Trump even leave the Oval Office? Will he step off the White House grounds? Will he show up to the inauguration? Here in America we have never had to ask these kinds of questions before.

Can reality finally defeat the Trumpian reality TV delusion?

Republicans and Democrats; conservatives and liberals; Trumpists and progressives — technically, they live on the same plane of existence, but in very different realities.

They do not consume the same news media. They do not go to the same schools. They do not live in the same communities. They rarely encounter one another in meaningful ways in person. They do not pray or worship together. They live in the same country but not the same nation. They do not share the same values. They do not communicate with one another in meaningful ways. They do not speak the same political language.

What happens when these worlds collide? We have no certain answer.

But we know one thing: Trumpism must be defeated on Election Day if the United States is to have any chance of remaining a democracy and then healing itself from the immediate and long-term harm done by Donald Trump and his movement over the last four-plus years.

For this to happen there can and should be no compromise between Trump and his movement, and Americans of conscience who are committed to the country's multiracial democracy.

Ultimately, the differences between TrumpWorld and reality are irreconcilable.

Donald Trump and his movement are antisocial and sociopathic. They literally are a death cult.

Trumpism is authoritarian, fascistic and committed to conspiracy theories, right-wing Christian fundamentalism and other forms of extremism. Democrats and their allies reject such things.

Trump has shown himself to be a sociopath, if not a psychopath. By comparison, Joe Biden — whether or not you approve of his ideology or his policy proposals — is emotionally healthy, well-balanced and humane. Leaders fulfill a permission function: In that role Donald Trump has encouraged his followers and other supporters to engage in the worst kinds of human behavior.

Joe Biden and the Democrats, whatever their numerous failings, represent healing and the possibility that the human species may survive global climate disaster and ecocide. Because of their rejection of science and their often-hypocritical embrace of right-wing Christian fascism and eschatological thinking, Donald Trump, the Republican Party and their allies represent an existential threat to human survival.

Cruelty and evil are the core values of Trumpism. Trump and his followers and allies have no shame, guilt, contrition or even embarrassment for the racist, white supremacist, anti-life and anti-family policies which have targeted nonwhite people for abuse and marginalization in a new Jim Crow America.

During last week's debate, when Trump was asked about the brown and Black children in his concentration camps — almost 550 of whom cannot be returned to their families because the Trump regime did not keep proper records — he displayed no apparent care or concern. Indeed, Trump went beyond callous indifference, suggestion that the children in his concentration camps and detention centers had somehow been done a favor because they were "clean" and "safe." Of course, that is not true: human rights organizations have documented physical and emotional abuse in those places. There have been many deaths from the COVID virus in those camps. Women and girls in those hellholes have been subjected to forced sterilization, along with other crimes such as rape and sexual assault.

Given Trump's belief in white supremacy — made into policy by his senior adviser, overt white supremacist Stephen Miller — it should be no surprise that he resorted to Nazi-style propaganda in his talk of "clean" and "safe" concentration camps.

Last week's debate also highlighted that Trump and his party have embraced a form of social Darwinist or Malthusian thinking, where the poor and weak and vulnerable are to suffer and be sacrificed for "the economy" and capitalism.

In a moment of unintentional honesty, Trump shared his commitment to such an anti-life ethic when he suggested that people who die from environmental pollution in some sense deserve their fate, because they made more money by living near toxic factories, waste dumps and other centers of poison.

Such claims are of course nonsensical — but internally consistent with a right-wing, libertarian, anti-democratic ideology where there are "makers" and "takers", the "deserving" and "the undeserving," and there should be no social compact or shared sense of care, concern and obligation to other human beings.

Joe Biden has repeatedly shown himself to be more empathetic, humane and decent than Donald Trump — again, irrespective of how one perceives Biden's politics. Because he is a malignant narcissist and displays evidence of other mental pathologies, Trump cannot imagine himself as another person, or mobilize the type of empathy and concern for others that is dependent upon going beyond one's own core sense of self.

When asked during last week's presidential debate about the need for parents, caregivers and mentors of Black (and brown) young people to deliver "the talk" about the possibility of violent or fatal encounters with police, Trump avoided the question altogether, veering into delusional comments about being a 21st-century Abraham Lincoln who has done so much for Black people.

By contrast, Biden was reflective and caring and made substantive promises about how his administration would try to confront institutional racism.

The hearts and minds of those people who live within TrumpWorld and those who live outside it are very different.

Trump supporters and Republicans tend to be more authoritarian and committed to maintaining social hierarchy and social dominance. They possess higher levels of ethnic antagonism, racial resentment and outright racism, as compared to Democrats, liberals and progressives.

Trumpists, Republicans and right-leaning independents also possess more death anxieties (social psychologists describe this is "terror management theory") and related fears of personal and societal change. They are also more likely to manifest what is known as the dark triad of personality traits (Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism) as compared to others.

Donald Trump is effectively a cult leader. His movement and today's Republican Party are a form of religious politics. Critical thinking is not allowed, as it is anathema to the movement's victory. By comparison, the Democrats are a coalition in which dissent is allowed, if not encouraged.

Because Trumpism is a cult the relationship between Donald Trump and his followers is fundamentally unhealthy. Writing at the Atlantic, Anne Applebaum explains that "in this election year we are grappling with something entirely new":

The president, the Republican Party, and its campaign machine are collectively seeking to create a completely false picture of the world. This isn't just a matter of wishful thinking or a few white lies. The president's campaign staff needs voters to believe that the pandemic is over, or else that it never mattered; that 200,000 people did not really die; that schools aren't closed; that shops aren't boarded up; that nothing much happened to the economy; that America is ever more respected around the world; that climate change isn't real; that the U.S. has no legitimate protesters, only violent thugs who have been paid by secretive groups. This fantasy has to be repeated every day, in multiple forms, on Fox News, in GOP Facebook ads, on websites like RedState. Inevitably, it will affect people's brains.

Trump's followers have surrendered their sense of self and their individual identities to the cult movement through collective narcissism. Once reality reasserts itself, as is inevitable in cults, Trump loyalists will likely experience great emotional and psychological pain before they are able to return to normal society.

There has been much excellent writing in these last few weeks and months about the collective feelings of permanent "brokenness," civic disfigurement, cataclysm and doom in Trump's pandemic America.

In his much-read essay "The Unraveling of America" at Rolling Stone, Wade Davis reflects on the implications of this moment, with a broken America beset with self-inflicted calamities and exposed before the world.

Evidence of such terminal decadence is the choice that so many Americans made in 2016 to prioritize their personal indignations, placing their own resentments above any concerns for the fate of the country and the world, as they rushed to elect a man whose only credential for the job was his willingness to give voice to their hatreds, validate their anger, and target their enemies, real or imagined. One shudders to think of what it will mean to the world if Americans in November, knowing all that they do, elect to keep such a man in political power. But even should Trump be resoundingly defeated, it's not at all clear that such a profoundly polarized nation will be able to find a way forward. For better or for worse, America has had its time.

The Guardian's Richard Seymour sees the United States as a pathocracy, likely to be undone by its violence, racism, right-wing omnicide and Christian "end times" fantasies:

There is a broader context for America's turn toward what writer Huw Lemmey accurately characterizes as a sub-Verhoeven dystopia. Rapture-seeking movements such as QAnon, or those prepping for the "boogaloo", are working the margins of a culturally mainstream phenomenon. Although the US has always been immersed in the fantasy of "regeneration through violence", rarely has so much of the country been so thoroughly in the grip of adrenaline-pumping, apocalyptic excitement and conspiracist paranoia.

In both conspiracy theories and apocalyptic fantasies, life is reduced to a cosmic showdown between good and evil. The traumas and disappointments of life are folded into a millenarian revenge fantasy-cum-death wish, as in the enormously popular series of Left Behind novels about rapture and the struggle with the papal antichrist. Such apocalyptic thinking reverberates through a network of institutions, including white evangelical churches, Fox News and the Republican party itself.

Time magazine's Charlotte Alter took an expedition into America's "battleground" states where the 2020 election will likely be decided. There she witnessed the intoxicating power of "unreason" and its unbreakable hold over too many Americans:

For every two people who offered a rational and informed reason for why they were supporting Biden or Trump, there was another — almost always a Trump supporter — who offered an explanation divorced from reality. You could call this persistent style of untethered reasoning "unlogic." Unlogic is not ignorance or stupidity; it is reason distorted by suspicion and misinformation, an Orwellian state of mind that arranges itself around convenient fictions rather than established facts….

With so many voters ignoring the headlines, it became increasingly hard to tell where most Americans fall on the continuum from reason to unlogic. In the absence of agreed-upon facts, the possibility of consensus itself seemed to be disappearing, and the effect was unsettling.

In a new essay at the Boston Review, Jonathan Metzl reflects on the power of white anxiety, and how it is further fracturing American society in the Age of Trump and the pandemic:

Clearing a new path forward ... depends not only on a new relationship to the psychologies of white anxiety but also to the structures and finances that propagate, sustain, and shamelessly benefit from it. Leave those structures intact, and the United States will continue to burn in what historian Timothy Snyder calls a "slow-motion Reichstag Fire."

Such change takes time. For now we must do our part to remind our fellow voters that this election is, as much as anything, a referendum on the ways that racial but also economic inequities have rendered many Americans uniquely vulnerable to a novel, fatal viral invader.

Salon's Lucian K. Truscott IV channels the pathos born of a season of death and its effect on the American people's sense of time and collective well-being, when so much else is also wrong and broken in their country: "We can't be mournful enough in this plague. All we can do is go on and try to make [its victims'] lives count by remembering them. We will vote and make a better world, because that is our duty, but the world will never be the same after this."

During the second and final presidential debate last week, there was one perfect moment that captured the collective frustration and disgust of the American people and likely the world. "Zeitgeist" is an overused and misapplied word — but in this moment, it applies. As Trump spewed out his lies, delusions and fantasies, Joe Biden looked down, flummoxed, and said quietly, "Oh, God." With those words, he spoke for all sane and decent human beings watching the president of the United States humiliate himself, and us.

Future historians may conclude that was the precise symbolic moment when Biden won the 2020 election.

Ralph Nader's election wisdom: 'In the swing states, you have to vote for Joe Biden'

Autocracy is kleptocracy. Donald Trump has repeatedly shown this to be true as he has abused the office of the presidency to enrich himself and his family, and to reward his political allies and other agents.

Trump has at least 3,400 conflicts of interest. Investigative reporters from Forbes, Vanity Fair, the New York Times and the Washington Post, along with independent watchdog and public advocacy groups have exhaustively detailed how Trump and his family have personally profited from his presidency.

Trump's adult children have become tens of millions of dollars richer from business partnerships and other financial ventures made possible by their father's presidency. Trump's company — which he still owns and controls — has received tens of millions of dollars (if not more) from direct payments to his hotels and other properties made by foreign countries.

Trump is also personally enriching himself through direct transfers to his businesses from the American people when he charges the Secret Service and other government agencies for staying at his properties.

Trump claims to be a billionaire. Like other wealthy Americans who pay less in taxes than poor and working-class people, Trump's own tax documents reveal that he paid only $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017. In 10 of the previous 15 years, he paid no income taxes at all.

The Trump regime and the Republican Party have systematically expanded their destruction of workers' rights, unions, the environment and public health and safety more generally. Coronavirus relief efforts were intentionally sabotaged and undermined by denying resources and other support to Democratic-led states and cities.

Trump's corruption and general malfeasance are indicative of a much larger problem in American society where the country's political and financial elites live by laws and norms which they created for their own benefit. Such an arrangement can be reasonably described as legal theft: There is one set of rules in America for the rich and another set of rules for everyone else.

In that way, Donald Trump represents a unique opportunity that may never be repeated in American history for the gangster capitalists, plutocrats and the other elements of what Noam Chomsky describes as the RECD ("really existing capitalist democracy") to become even richer and powerful by looting the government and further destroying civil society, the commons, and the other social and political institutions and norms that are prerequisites for a humane society.

How are such an abominably unjust set of outcomes made to appear legitimate and normal to the American people? To cite one example, benign-sounding language about a supposed "K-shaped recovery" is used to describe extreme income and wealth inequality, and the reality that America's millionaires and billionaires have enriched themselves through the human and financial destruction caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

To further legitimate such injustice, minimum wage and working-class people in the service industries are described as "heroes" and "essential workers" in the PR newspeak of the corporations, the mainstream news media and the political classes. In reality these "essential workers" are treated as disposable human beings to be sacrificed in the death cult of capitalism.

In total, "coronavirus-fascism" has shone an ever starker light on how American society in the Age of Trump has become a full-on pathocracy, one rapidly approaching a moment when it cannot be cured or otherwise redeemed.

Ralph Nader has been fighting for the freedoms and rights of the American people for six decades. He is an author, attorney, consumer advocate and activist, as well as a five-time presidential candidate. (His still-controversial Green Party campaign in 2000 has been blamed, fairly or otherwise, for the razor-thin margin of votes in Florida that elected George W. Bush.) Nader's new book (with co-author Mark Green) is "Wrecking America: How Trump's Lawbreaking and Lies Betray All."

In this conversation, Nader explains how the plutocrats and the CEO class are benefiting from the coronavirus pandemic and why America's mainstream media and other voices have largely been silent, if not complicit. Nader also warns that voting for the Democratic Party (which he describes as the "lesser of two evils") helped to create the disaster that is the Age of Trump. He offers a case for why the Democratic Party (along with "liberals" and "progressives" more generally) lacks the necessary energy and language to defeat Trumpism and the Republican Party's decades-long assault on social democracy.

You can also listen to my conversation with Ralph Nader on my podcast "The Truth Report" or through the player embedded below.


Given your decades of experience in politics and social change work, is there a moment when you feel like American society went off the rails? When things were truly broken and got us to where we are today, with the Age of Trump and American fascism?

It went off the rails when the Republicans and the right wing stole the 2000 election from Al Gore and blamed the Green Party, including me. The 2000 election was a judicial coup d'état led by [Justice Antonin] Scalia. It was one of the most criminogenic political decisions one can imagine. Scalia could not even defend his own decision. Subsequently, the 2000 election also helped to create eight years of a George W. Bush presidency. The result of the 2000 election was a huge increase in judicial power, in essence creating a group of unelected tyrants — and that problem is only going to get worse with Trump going forward.

And of course, one must acknowledge all of the public policies that resulted from Bush being "elected" in 2000. A mockery has been made out of elections and the law. There is now unchallenged gerrymandering by the Republicans. Trump, like George W. Bush, also won the election with the Electoral College. The Republicans have flattened the Democratic Party at almost every turn. The Democrats are the only political party standing in the way of massive Republican corporate domination of our society. In 1938 Franklin Donald Roosevelt described what we are witnessing with today's Republican Party as "fascism."

What do the Republicans understand about power, raw power, that the Democrats do not?

The Republicans have more energy. They go for the jugular, while the Democrats go for the capillaries. One example: Do you know any Democratic senator that has as much drive and maniacal energy as Mitch McConnell? Can you compare the Koch brothers with George Soros? The Republicans transformed the judiciary. They've elected a president in the form of Donald Trump who lost the popular vote. They've got their own "news" network in the form of Fox. Where is the counterpart for Democrats or the left and progressives?

Donald Trump and the plutocracy, in a country controlled by gangster capitalism, is a moral obscenity. There are long breadlines. The very rich have only become richer because of the coronavirus pandemic. Social inequality overall is worsening. How can the news media and other members of the mainstream media — and the Democrats, liberals and progressives — speak more clearly about these obscenities? Or are voices in the media and elsewhere just too scared to tell the truth about the depth of the crisis?

The corporate media types and as well as the Democrats need to open a dictionary and read it carefully. They collectively lack the language that can adequately describe the grotesque, vicious, cruel and omnicidal things that are going on in America today.

Here is one example. What are they calling massive unprecedented hurricanes, droughts, floods, sea level increase and wildfires? "Climate change." You see that language everywhere. I tried to get environmental groups to use better language such as "climate chaos," "climate destruction" and "climate catastrophe." Do you know who coined the phrase "climate change"? The right-wing wordsmith Frank Luntz. In 2002 he told conservatives and other elements of the right wing, "This phrase, 'global warming,' is too alarming. We got to find another phrase." They said, "What phrase?" He said, "Let's call it 'climate change'. It sounds like the seasons: Autumn, winter, spring, summer." Democrats and environmental groups lapped up that phrase like a cat drinking milk.

Another weak example of language is calling something "problematic" when it should be described as "terrible" or "grotesque." Here is another example: Instead of plainly saying that right-wing corporatists are lying, the mainstream media types and the Democratic Party will say it's "magical thinking." Instead of saying something is really obstructive and bad, they will substitute "challenging."

How is the coronavirus pandemic and this season of death an opportunity for gangster capitalists here in America and around the world? Trump, the Republicans and the right are leading a literal death cult where the solution is to go out and die for "the economy."

As things get worse in America, criminally bad in fact, big business gets stronger. That is the trend. It did not happen in the 1930s, by the way. It didn't happen in the 1960s either. But big business counterattacked and they took control of Congress. Congress is the only tool left to take on gigantic corporations and the corporatocracy and its criminal, omnicidal behavior.

One would think that more of these progressive groups would focus on Congress? No. They put out exposés. They denounce corporate crime on Wall Street. They have marches and all the energy goes up into the ether.

Those forces are scamming the American people. They began looting, stealing and cheating the public the very minute that the United States government began its so-called relief efforts. A public flood of money was released, and even the best reporters and journalists cannot keep up with all of the corruption. Big business is getting this "relief" money directly. Even subsidiaries of right-wing corporatists such as the Koch brothers are getting this money.

The corporatists have crowded out the attempts of liberals and progressives and others to focus on winning a living wage, universal health care, and other policies that would help the American people. That is a sign of a crumbling society. It is when the big crooks not only get away with the obscenities with impunity, but they actually come out of the disaster stronger and more dominant.

We are seeing huge numbers of small businesses going bankrupt in this country because of the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. Amazon will be bigger. Facebook will be bigger. Google will be bigger. ExxonMobil will be bigger. There are going to be fewer but more strong and larger giant drug companies, giant banks and giant insurance companies.

How did the social Darwinist ethic that profits matter more than people take hold in late-20th and early 21st century America?

The countervailing forces were broken. They broke the labor movement. They weakened and blocked the consumer movement. They broke the use of the tort system.

What does it mean to be a progressive or a liberal in this perilous time?

To be a liberal or a progressive in this moment means to take on giant corporations that have taken over government and used it as a type of personal bank, and turned the rest of the government against the American people. In total, it is a type of corporate state fascism. It is here right now. And it is just becoming deeper and more powerful.

If Donald Trump is defeated, his voters and other supporters are not going to disappear. Public opinion and other social science research show that there are tens of millions of people in America, almost all white, who are authoritarians. What do you think the Trumpists want? What is their vision of America?

Donald Trump's supporters want a White America. Trump has increased their numbers and power. Trump wants civil strife. Trump is the chief inciter of domestic terrorism and violence in this country. Trump has given his supporters and their racism and other antisocial behavior much more visibility and helped to grow their numbers. Many of Trump's supporters are literally white supremacists. Many of the men are angry, because in their minds, women have rejected them. They are very alienated. Many of them have lost their jobs. Trump's supporters see no future for themselves. So they get a feeling of empowerment and feel consoled for their problems by joining a cult-like group. It makes them feel powerful. These Trump supporters also have weapons. We saw what Trump's followers are capable of in Michigan.

Noam Chomsky, Cornel West and other notable voices on the left have made a compelling argument that all people of conscience must vote for Joe Biden and the Democrats as a way of stopping Donald Trump so that the country and the world can be saved. What are your thoughts on that strategy? Should the left disregard its longstanding critiques and concerns and choose to support Biden?

I am not openly supporting Joe Biden. But I am going to oppose Donald Trump. The Electoral College makes it simple. In the solid red and blue states a person can vote for the Green Party. But in the swing states, you have to vote for Joe Biden. I also believe that people should only vote their conscience. They should only vote for the people they believe in. When you vote for the least of two evils, the worst evil ends up dominating the least evil. As an example, when you vote for a Democrat as the lesser of two evils, what has been the result? The Republicans control most state governments, the U.S. Senate and the White House.

If Joe Biden wins on Election Day and Trump actually leaves office, I am deeply concerned that the public's expectations are going to be too high. The American people will end up depressed and spent because a return to "normal" did not solve the many problems that Trump both created and also made worse. If Donald Trump somehow manages through means illegal and quasi-legal to "win" the election and stay in power, then the American people will experience something akin to a collective nervous breakdown. Most will just surrender to Trumpism and American fascism and learned helplessness.

The premise of your observation is that you can beat the fight out of the American people. As in other countries, we have seen that happen. Unfortunately, in America more and more of the people do in fact look defeated, with a few exceptions, Donald Trump has pummeled the American people into submission. Is American-style fascism possible? Of course. There are pockets of it all over the country — and now in the federal government and elsewhere at the highest levels here in America.

You have been a truth-teller, an activist, an organizer, a candidate and involved in social change work more generally for a very long time. How do you sustain the energy and drive?

The easy answer is that I do not like white flags. I do not like surrender. I don't like bullies. It is in my DNA. I also keep foremost in my mind images of the people who I am trying to champion, defend and protect. In my mind I always see that coal miner dying of black lung disease spitting up black soot and blood.

Political scientist dismantles the 'folk theory of democracy': Trump revealed that 'truth and reason' don't matter in politics

Public opinion polls and other data show that Joe Biden has a double-digit lead over Donald Trump, with just over a week to go until the election. Biden's campaign also has substantially more money. As judged by conventional standards, Biden won the two presidential debates. Nate Silver's much-cited FiveThirtyEight site gives Joe Biden an 87 percent chance of defeating Trump.

If Biden and the Democrats win by a landslide — an outcome that seems increasingly likely — one of the dominant narratives will be that a multiracial coalition of Americans rose up against Donald Trump and did so loudly and bravely in a time of plague, when gathering in public could quite literally be a death sentence. Trump's defeat will be heralded as true populism as compared to the authoritarian, white-supremacist faux-populism that won Trump his flukish Electoral College victory in 2016. Normalcy will have returned; the healing can begin. It will feel good, for a little while. Of course, matters in the real world are far more complicated.

What if that does not happen? What if Trump somehow manages to steal another implausible victory through both legal and illegal means, combining foreign interference, voter suppression and intimidation, and perhaps even a usurpation of the public's will by the Supreme Court? America will slide further into the abyss of full-on fascism and an authoritarian "managed democracy." A good many Americans, already afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder because of Donald Trump and his allies' collective assaults, will come to feel that resistance is futile. Both "people power" and the normal operation of electoral politics will appear impotent against the Age of Trump.

With either outcome, dangerous myths about American political culture will remain unchallenged, left as assumed truths and conventional wisdom created by throwing uncomfortable facts down the memory hole.

These myths are numerous, but perhaps begin and end with American exceptionalism, the delusional idea that the United States is fundamentally different from all other nations, and not subject to the laws and patterns of history. Beneath that overarching belief, we find these dogmas: America's democratic institutions, norms and values are strong and permanent; the free press serves as a resolute guardian of the country's democracy; the American people are fundamentally decent and American society is healthy; Americans will always reject authoritarianism and fascism, along with large-scale political violence and terrorism are rejected; white supremacy, nativism, misogyny and other antisocial values are largely things of the past; our multiracial democracy, whatever its flaws, is a settled fact.

It is these myths that helped to create the disaster of American fascism in the form of Donald Trump and his movement. Even if Trumpism in its present form is defeated, these uninterrogated myths almost guarantee that American fascism will spring forth again.

These myths are tied together by an assumption on the part of American political elites and other influentials that the American people are reasonable, rational, politically engaged and at least somewhat ideologically consistent. There is no basis in logic or fact for any of those assumptions.

How does this folk theory of democracy lead to incorrect understandings and conclusions about American politics in general, and about the Age of Trump and its aftermath? What is the role of "ethnic antagonism" and authoritarianism in voting and other political behavior in American politics? What does the data actually reveal about the fabled voters of the "white working class" voters and their support of Trump and the Republican Party? Do American voters actually factor in disasters such as the coronavirus in how they assess presidents?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with political scientist Larry Bartels, who holds the May Werthan Shayne Chair of Public Policy and Social Science at Vanderbilt University. Bartels is the author of several books, including "Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age" and "Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government" (with Christopher Achen). His commentaries and other writing have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times and other leading publications. Bartels is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Toward the end of our conversation, Bartels shares his thoughts on the reliability of the various models offered by historians, political scientists and others who claim to be able to predict the outcome of presidential elections and the likely defeat of Donald Trump. (I will not spoil his remarks for you here.) As usual, this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are some of the major assumptions about American democracy that Donald Trump's time in office has shattered?

Among people who think and write about politics for a living, there is a kind of assumption that truth and reason, especially in American democracy, are the driving forces of people's behavior. These years with Donald Trump have stripped away some of those assumptions.

In 2016, I predicted that Trump would win the election. I argued that the average American voters is not rational or sophisticated. There was an incredulous response to my conclusion. In these four years of Trump, it took a long time for prominent people to state plainly that he is an authoritarian if not a fascist. Even as the facts reveal that to be true, there is deep anger at the truth and a profound denial among many in the commentariat and among the American people more generally. Why the anger? It almost seems like a type of narcissistic injury.

I believe that we all have, in some way or another, an attachment to what my co-author Christopher Achen and I describe as the "folk theory of democracy." That framework and narrative is a reassuring and comforting way of thinking about politics in this country. If we study the relationship between the political views that people espouse and then who they should vote for, there was this assumption that political views are causing political behavior, when in fact our research shows that it is probably more the reverse. Other variables are also involved in political decision-making as well, which are outside of many traditional rationalizations and explanations.

I was surprised by Donald Trump's election, not because I expect voters to be ideological, but because I viewed the identities that he was appealing to as being too narrowly focused. I was also surprised by the extent of loyalty among everyday Republicans, for whom white identity may be an inclination to their behavior and decision-making but is not a part of their identity on a day-to-day basis. Sheer partisanship motivated many people to vote for Trump who otherwise might have been put off by him and what he stands for.

Why does Donald Trump have such a stable and deep level of unwavering support among Republicans? It endures to this late date, no matter what he does.

Partisanship is an identity in and of itself, one that has become increasingly important in the last 10 or 20 years in American politics. One reason that partisanship has become more important is that is it more strongly correlated with many other identities, of which race is an important one, but certainly not the only one.

In some new research, I examined attachment to democratic values. I included prompts such as "The president should take the law into their own hands," "The results of elections can't be trusted," "Patriots may have to resort to force to save the American way of life" and other such items. We were surprised by how much agreement with those items there was among Republicans.

In trying to understand the data, I applied an index for "ethnic antagonism." This consists of questions about immigrants having too much access to government resources, the political influence of black people, "discrimination" against whites and questions of a similar theme. Ethnic antagonism was by far the most powerful predictor of these anti-democratic attitudes.

The cutting edge of the strong emotions and enthusiasm in the Republican Party for Trump, although not all Republicans exhibit high levels of "ethnic antagonism," is basically grounded in a kind of ethnic panic that some people have about the possibility that "their way of life" or "their America" may be swamped by demographic changes.

"White working-class" voters are still being obsessed over by the mainstream news media and too many Democratic political strategists. What do we know empirically about the white working class and its political behavior?

I think the first thing to figure out is what people mean by white working class. "Working class" is usually understood to be "people without college degrees," which is the majority of white voters. They did disproportionately switch to Trump in 2016, but those numbers were pretty small. It is easy to exaggerate the numbers and to imagine that these people who made an important difference at the margins are representative of Trump's supporters more generally. That is not the case. Donald Trump's supporters were generally more upscale, for example, than Hillary Clinton's supporters.

The typical Republican is someone who did not go to college but did pretty well in life despite that fact. He or she attributes that success to hard work and expects other people to be able to do the same thing. I believe that most such voters were already Republicans before 2016. But the people who switched to Trump in 2016 were disproportionately that person. Education has a role in Trump's rise in another way as well. Donald Trump's behavior is unappealing to those people who went to college and internalized a particular set of norms and values about American political culture.

The New York Times kept running these long pieces where they would explain to the readers how Donald Trump was violating some cultural and political norm, with the assumption that if readers understood that fact then the public would turn against Trump. For many people in the United States, those norms are not very salient. Their allegiance to what we understood to be "democratic norms" is pretty shallow. People who respected Donald Trump for "saying it like it is" and not being restrained by "political correctness" are disproportionately people who were less educated, although not less affluent.

What are some of your largest frustrations in terms of how supposed "political experts" in the news media analyze the country's politics?

Many professional political observers in the news media and elsewhere want to interpret politics in terms of ideology. They also want to interpret politics in the country by focusing on the most intense people on each side, as though they are representative of the public as a whole. One of the main arguments about Trump's voters and racism is that he appealed to a fragment of the American public that had been underserved by racism and related values, even as compared to Republican politicians, before he came along. There is evidence in support of that conclusion.

Prior to Trump there was a concerted effort among Republican elites to try to appeal to racism, but not in overt terms. They tried to appeal to anti-immigration sentiment, but not in a way that would cut off their chances to build support among immigrant communities.

One of the other common narratives is that Trump's election is a function of some huge upswing in racism. But if you track these measures of racial resentment over time, the big shift in the last decade has been that the public as a whole has become less racist and racially resentful. But this is largely because Democrats have increasingly learned what they are supposed to say in response to questions from pollsters and other researchers about race and racial inequality. Republicans have not.

There are more major shifts in American politics in terms of media coverage than there are in reality. Every time there is some major announcement about shifts in attitudes, one should be skeptical. However, public attitudes and values do sometimes change fairly rapidly. In terms of race and politics, my intuition would be that what has changed in the Age of Trump is mostly a verbal attachment to one position or another, rather than people's deep-seated feelings about race.

How ideological is the average American? And how does ideology relate to the folk theory of democracy?

The folk theory of democracy is a belief that America is a representative democracy, and that we the voters decide on who the political leaders are and basically give them a mandate to pursue some set of policies. If these elected officials do not live up to expectations, then they are voted out and replaced by someone else.

There are some elements of that story which are true. But most Americans do not have a very well-developed or sophisticated political ideology. Their views about politics are shallower, more contingent on circumstances and more subject to self-contradiction than people who spend their careers thinking about politics would likely be able to to imagine.

Now, this does not mean that the average American is without meaningful attitudes about politics and related topics. They are not a blank slate. But the average American thinks about American politics sporadically, when they are forced to or when there is something happening in terms of political life that they cannot easily ignore. In all, journalists and scholars of politics think about politics much more than the average person.

What do we know about how the average American factors in calamities and disasters such as the coronavirus pandemic in terms of their voting behavior?

There are many debates about that question among political scientists and others who study politics. One view, which our book "Democracy for Realists" adopts, is that people are not very critical about assessing the responsibility of elected officials for certain kinds of calamities. In "Democracy for Realists", Achen and I wrote about shark attacks in New Jersey and also how the public reacts to droughts and floods.

There is some existing and still in-progress research on the American people's reaction to the Spanish flu pandemic [of 1918]. We examined that work and it was surprising, because one would imagine a large backlash. But we did not see that in the data. [President] Woodrow Wilson was not punished. State governors were also not being punished by the public. One of the explanations is that no one of public prominence at the time was constructing the Spanish flu as a political issue or attaching blame to elected officials.

By comparison, when the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold and people were asking me about the political implications, I told them there that there is no way that it is not going to be politicized, and that once it becomes politicized, people are going to associate it with Donald Trump.

The alternative view is that voters attempt to assess the quality of elected officials' response, and that the backlash against Donald Trump is not simply a reaction to the pain of the pandemic and resulting economic collapse, but rather an assessment of Trump's performance. Therefore, if Donald Trump were performing better than average in terms of his response to the coronavirus pandemic, then he would have been rewarded rather than punished for the pandemic. We will need to do more research in the future, of course, but my sense is that someone has to be blamed and held responsible for the failures of the pandemic response — and for the public that is Trump.

There are various models from historians, political scientists, economists and others which purport to predict the outcome of presidential elections in this country. Is there a consensus on how accurate these models are?

There are a number of these predictive models. My first observation is that if there are seven factors, for example, then an intervention could be made so that the model is made to fit the data which the researcher already has.

But there are in fact models that have a pretty good track record in terms of accounting for election outcomes over time. In these predictions and models, the two most important factors are the state of the economy in the election year and how long the incumbent party has been in power. Those two things appear to work well in terms of predictive power. In 2016 they predicted an outcome which was not much different from what happened.

Many of the people responsible for these models said at the time, "This is what the models predict, but it certainly will not apply to Donald Trump because he is such an unusual candidate." Nevertheless, the models did turn out to apply to Donald Trump. I interpret that outcome to be a statement about the extent to which partisan behavior was shaped by the usual partisan factors, rather than by anything specific about Trump or the 2016 election. Those same models now predict that Donald Trump is going to lose substantially.

Here is a qualifier: There has been an increase in partisan polarization in this country. That probably means there are fewer people who are sufficiently undecided to be swayed by the state of the economy in the election year. Therefore, the magnitude of Donald Trump's loss, if he does in fact lose, will be less than one would predict based on the historical record.

Historian warns America is already in its own 'slow-motion Reichstag Fire'

Donald Trump continues to make it clear that he does not intend to leave office peacefully if he is defeated by Joe Biden and the Democrats on Election Day. Moreover, Donald Trump considers any election in which he is not the "winner" to be null and void. Trump's appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court is an obvious quid pro quo to secure his "reelection" if his attorneys and other agents can sufficiently sabotage the vote on Election Day and beyond.

On Thursday, Trump again followed the authoritarian's playbook when he bragged to his supporters at a rally in North Carolina that U.S. Marshalls essentially executed Michael Reinoehl, an anti-fascist activist accused of killing a right wing paramilitary member during protests in Oregon last August.

Celebrating the extra-judicial killings of one's political "enemies" is a common feature of fascist authoritarian regimes and the types of leaders admired and imitated by Donald Trump.

Donald Trump's commitment to and use of political violence is a matter of public record. Two of the most recent examples include how Trump's followers in Michigan allegedly planned to kidnap and possibly murder Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. During his debate with Joe Biden, Trump also commanded white supremacist paramilitaries to be prepared to attack his and their "enemies" if he loses on Election Day or is otherwise removed from office.

Trump also wants Joe Biden and other leading Democrats imprisoned and perhaps even executed because he deems them to be "guilty" of "treason" and a "coup" attempt against him. Donald Trump and his Attorney General William Barr have also threatened to use the United States military against the American people if they dare to protest the outcome of the 2020 Election if Trump somehow finds some extra-legal (if not outright illegal) way to stay in office.

Because he is a political sadist and master of misery and pain, Donald Trump is using the coronavirus pandemic as a weapon to physically and emotionally abuse the American people in order to make them more compliant and subservient to his regime. Like other autocrats and authoritarians, he is also using the economic and human devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic to personally enrich himself, his family, and allies as a way of guaranteeing the latter's loyalty.

In all, as with his obsessive rhetoric about "law and order," like other fascist authoritarians Donald Trump and his regime define the "law" in ways that benefit themselves and disregard the law when it does not serve their interests. Through that logic democracy is a tool for the Trump regime to stay in power indefinitely if they "win" and to disregard the outcome on Election Day and beyond if they are voted out of office by the American people.

Trump's strategy of attacking America's democratic norms, institutions, and culture is a constant torrent where the targets are corrupted, weakened, and then finally routed through sheer exhaustion.

In a new essay at The Bulwark, senior Democratic Party strategist James Carville summarizes this existential moment of crisis for the United States as:

Very seldom in American history have there been periods when people can nobly wage a crusade to create real and lasting change. But when these crusades do occur, when those moments arrive, what we do to vanquish the threat to freedom builds something everlasting into the framework of our society.

The American Revolution, the Civil War, World War II, Seneca Falls, Stonewall, and Selma, were all historical flashpoints where Americans displayed their patriotism against oppressive forces in a resounding way. These movements overthrew an empire, ended slavery, staved off totalitarianism, and paved the way for the establishment of fundamental civil rights and liberties for women, LGBTQ+ and black Americans.

We find ourselves again at such a turning point. Donald Trump's authoritarian presence behind the Resolute Desk is amongst the gravest threats America has ever faced from within. And Americans have risen to meet this threat.

The Trump regime has created a defense in depth against the American people. A key part of Trump's defensive strategy consists of how those Americans and others who are expecting one dramatic and climactic assault on the country's democracy have been lulled into a type of complacency and surrender.

As wielded by Donald Trump and other fascist authoritarians, the poison they have injected into the country's body politic and democracy is actually quite slow acting, where the victim becomes used to chronic pain before finally succumbing.

Why does America's mainstream news media continue to avoid describing Donald Trump and his regime as fascist authoritarians? What are they afraid of? How has that evasion helped to empower and normalize Trumpism?

In what ways have Donald Trump and his regime used the coronavirus — and the pain and social injustice it has revealed and made worse — as a weapon against democracy and the American people?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Timothy Snyder. He is a Professor of History at Yale University and the author of the bestselling books "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century" and "The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America." His new book is "Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary."

At the end of this conversation, Timothy Snyder warns that the United States is in the midst of a years-long slow-motion Reichstag Fire emergency that Election Day 2020 may not resolve.

You can also listen to my conversation with Timothy Snyder on my podcast "The Truth Report" or through the player embedded below.


Donald Trump's attacks on democracy are escalating. He continues to say that he will not respect the outcome of the election if he loses to Joe Biden and the Democrats. There are some public voices who have been warning about Trump and authoritarianism and fascism for several years. You are foremost among them. Why did more people not listen to the warnings?

It is structural. At present it is harder to reach people who do not already agree with you. This is true even for those of us with a public platform and big audience. More contact is virtual and less in person. It is also harder to surprise people. Ultimately, it is very hard to reach people before an algorithm does. By then a person's mind is already made up one way or another.

The second answer is that many Americans really like authoritarianism. Sure, the conventional wisdom says that Americans like freedom. Some of them do. Some of them do not. The Americans who do not like freedom are not going to be reached or otherwise have their minds changed. It is as simple as that.

In my view, it is less about reaching people and more about getting them to take action. People sometimes ask me, "Why do you preach to the choir?" To get people to do things. It is not enough to have the correct idea. If people act, even if it is a small thing, that makes a difference.

And of course, there is the challenge of the American exceptionalism consensus. The belief that America is insulated from authoritarianism because of our institutions took a long time to fight through. That myth was the direct target of my book "On Tyranny."

Why are so many journalists and other members of the political class continually surprised by Donald Trump's cruelty and assaults on democracy and norms? Trump is not changing. He is only getting worse. Why be surprised? Such a reaction is very crippling and ultimately counterproductive. It helps Trump to win.

That denial is a function of what I describe as "the politics of eternity." There is an ongoing stream of small to medium-level provocations from authoritarian movements and leaders. Those actions give a positive hit to their supporters and a negative hit to their opponents.

Everyone becomes addicted to the experience, be it pleasant or unpleasant. What you are describing is how many in the news media and elsewhere wait for Donald Trump to do the latest most outrageous thing — and then it is reported as being outrageous. That gives them a hit of sorts, a jolt to the system. Then they wait for the next outrageous thing, and so on. But the problem is that there is no thinking or theory to offer context for what is happening.

Too many people are still defaulting to these ideas that America's "institutions" are going to solve the problems of authoritarianism and Trumpism. Or history is somehow on America's side. If a person does not have some way of theorizing what Donald Trump is, then everything he does is a surprise to them. If you lack the theoretical framework to understand Trump and what is happening, then you will also lack an understanding of how to push back against it. You are helpless.

So many of the discussions are still focused on Donald Trump and what he is not. What we need to be able to do is to say what Trump is. Once you say what Trumpism really is, then you can start to fight it.

We talk about the pandemic as though it is a series of failures. No, the pandemic is not a series of failures. It is the "achievement" that Donald Trump is going to be most remembered for.

More than 200,000 people dead from the pandemic is a type of "achievement" for Trump. It took real effort to make that happen.

I'm not saying that he intended it from beginning to end. I'm not saying that there was a plot in January that 300,000 will be dead in December. What I am saying is that outcome is a result of the decisions made by Donald Trump. If the American people and most of the mainstream news media and other observers keep seeing Donald Trump in terms of omissions such as "he is not a normal politician" then we do not see and understand him for what he really is, whatever that may be.

Donald Trump is a white man. He is old. He wears a tie. What could he possibly be except somewhere in the zone of normal? That erroneous assumption contributes to why so many people are still surprised by his behavior.

Donald Trump is evil. His movement is evil. They meet all the criteria for evil. Yet, there is a willful avoidance of using that language to describe him by the mainstream news media, political elites, and other opinion leaders and public voices. If they admit that Donald Trump and his movement are evil, then there is an obligation to do something about it. To my eyes, that avoidance is a defense mechanism that will not save them or anyone else from Trump and his movement.

Evil is a helpful word to use here. I have been using that language in my new book "Our Malady." There is an almost taboo-like hesitation to move into truly ethical judgments in our discussions of Trump and his movement. As long as we are avoiding discussions of good and evil then his behavior is normalized. Avoiding that language of good and evil also leaves the public with a hope that this crisis will somehow turn back to normal.

There is a psychological dynamic at work here too. If a person did not name Trumpism as evil before, then it is hard to name it as such later on. If a political commentator or other observer did not see the danger of Trump and his movement back in 2016 then they are probably not getting it correct now even at this late point.

I think your word "fear," though, is very well taken. But I'd push that out in a different direction.

Fear is also an important concept here. Trump is running for reelection based on fear – much more so than in 2016. In 2016, it was a mix. Trump and his campaign were talking about infrastructure. They were trying to go to the left of the Democrats on some issues. Whereas in 2020, it's now just pure fear. A fear that Black people are going to rape white women in the suburbs, and they are going to burn down the cities. The pandemic is either Black people's fault or it is a conspiracy, or it is not really happening. Fear is being consciously created and then manipulated. The Democrats are really running against a Reichstag Fire. The Democrats are not really running against a political party and Donald Trump's campaign.

How can we better explain to the Democrats that Trumpism is a type of political and social movement, and normal politics, those old rules, no longer apply here in America?

History shows that people can learn to like pain. They can also learn to like inflicting pain on others. That is what the Democrats are up against. They are not competing against some theory of politics where voters and the public are purely rational and motivated by "the issues."

Donald Trump is a president who happily circulates as much pain as he can on the rationale that his people are going to suffer for him — and they're going to enjoy suffering because of their idea that other people are suffering more. Trump's supporters are suffering for a cause which is other people, Black people, immigrants, some Other, suffering more than they are.

Should the Democrats therefore imitate Donald Trump and the Republicans? The fact that there is now a Trump death cult does not mean that there should then be a Biden death cult. That would be absurd on any number of levels.

The coronavirus intersects with American fascism, Donald Trump, and his movement – including the Republican Party as a whole. How are you making sense of that relationship?

Because I was so close to death, the significance of those observations and experiences was brought home to me more than it would have been otherwise. America's racial and economic inequality is all the more obvious in life or death situations. The coronavirus of course reveals those disparities in an even more stark light.

Even before 2020 begins we are in a system where America does not have universal health care. Why? Because there is some type of practical everyday consensus that it is OK to have bad health care in this country. Such disparities in treatment are racial: In America we do not have a right to health care because then that would mean that Black people and Brown people and immigrants and so on would also have access to health care and then somehow abuse it — so goes the racist logic and history in this country.

Health care in the United States overlaps with race for white people in another way as well. The argument that is made to white people is "you are the frontiersmen, you're the rugged individualists." In that imaginary, white people know not to talk about pain or disease. There is the sadism then of some white people being pleased because they suffer less than other people. And you have the masochism of those same white people being willing to suffer, basically for nothing.

When the first reports of the coronavirus begin in March and April it was clear that it is taking the life of Blacks and Hispanics and Native Americans at a much higher rate than whites. Now that we have more numbers, it is much more fatal. In America white people live longer than Black people.

Once that fact is widely known it becomes normalized. For many white people, it is normal for Black people and Brown people to suffer more than them.

What do we know about the connections between a humane society and authoritarianism?

There is a strong connection. In my new book "Our Malady" I explore this.

For example, on an individual level, when you can't talk, you do not have freedom of speech. When you can't move, you do not have freedom of assembly. When you do not think that you are going to have a future, then freedom is no longer a meaningful concept.

If you cannot afford health care, you're afraid. If you're ashamed to talk about health care, you're less free. If you're aware of that the access to health care is going to be competitive and somebody who's less sick than you might come ahead of you because they have better insurance and better connections or whatever it might be, then you are less free. Pandemic or not, it all creates a situation where there is not an unnecessary reservoir of anxiety and fear. And that totally unnecessary reservoir of anxiety and fear can be directed to other places.

The talent that Donald Trump has is to either generate that anxiety or to take the anxiety and fear that already exists in America and to direct it in the ways that he wants to. Authoritarianism works through taking abuse and trauma and pushing it in other directions.

Donald Trump understands that he cannot win a free and fair election. Trump knows that the pandemic and the economic downturn can give him the sources of energy that he just might be able to use to stay in power some other way than an election. Donald Trump is in "the worse, the better" territory now, because he understands abuse, pain, trauma, fear and related things. Evil understands evil. Trump understands that the more anxiety and fear is out there, the larger the chances he must somehow turn the election in his direction and then pick up the pieces.

Election Day is imminent. How do you respond to those critics who would say that, "You were talking about a Reichstag Fire! It didn't happen! You are an alarmist. Hysterical! None of that happened!" What would you tell such people?

Obviously, we are in a slow-motion Reichstag Fire right now. That is what is happening. Donald Trump is not as skilled as Hitler. He doesn't work as hard as Hitler. He doesn't have the same level of confidence as Hitler, but he's clearly looking for that Reichstag Fire emergency. Trump tried to make Black Lives Matter into that emergency. "Antifascists" and "thugs" and "law and order" and so on is part of that effort. Donald Trump keeps trying to make the Reichstag Fire work.

If Trump is not successful, then that is a credit to the people who are resisting. Donald Trump is not involved in a political campaign; it is emergency politics in the constant search of an emergency. Whether Trump and his allies can line up the emergency politics with the emergency, I do not know. But that is all that Trump and his allies have got on their side — and it all they are going to have through to Election Day.

Why fact-checking may be futile against Trump's black hole of lies


Donald Trump has publicly lied at least 20,000 times since taking office, according to the Washington Post. He does this in part because he has shown himself to be mentally unwell, if not a sociopath. But he also lies because he is a fascist authoritarian. For such leaders, lies are a way of assaulting reality and truth as a means of achieving unlimited power. These explanations are not discrete. They overlap with one another.

In a season of massive death, Donald Trump and his regime's lies about the coronavirus are a public health emergency – one which has killed at least 216,000 people in the United States.

Donald Trump and his regime's lies have also severely damaged America's prestige, alliances and global power. The country's enemies have also been emboldened by the Trump regime's lies and overall lack of consistency in foreign policy and principles.

Most important, Trump and his regime's policy of lying (in conjunction with wanton cruelty and other evil) has undermined American democracy. A common understanding of reality is the foundation of a health democracy. The Trump regime's lies and those of its agents are rotting that foundation.

In "The Death of Truth," Michiko Kakutani explains that the damage Trump has done to the country's institutions and foreign policy will take "years to repair."

"And to the degree that his election was a reflection of larger dynamics in society—from the growing partisanship in politics, to the profusion of fake stories on social media, to our isolation in filter bubbles—his departure from the scene will not restore truth to health and well-being, at least not right away," Kakutani writes.

Why is Donald Trump such a powerful and effective liar? Why has the mainstream American news media largely surrendered to his lies, and by doing so normalized them? Would more aggressive fact-checking have blunted Donald Trump and his regime's strategy of lying? What explains why the mainstream American news media as a whole refused — and for the most part, continues to refuse — to describe Donald Trump and his regime accurately as being fascist and authoritarian?

In an effort answer these questions, I recently spoke with Eric Alterman, a columnist at The Nation and the author of more than 10 books, including the bestseller "What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News." His latest book is "Lying in State: Why Presidents Lie and Why Trump is Worse."

Why are there now so many more voices in the mainstream American news media who, several weeks from Election Day, are finally using language such as "fascism" and "authoritarianism" to describe Trump and his regime? This was obvious several years ago. Why the delay? What were they waiting for?

There are many disincentives to tell the truth about Donald Trump. The most obvious one is that he's the President of the United States and people consider it disrespectful to use certain words about the president, like "liar" and "racist" and "conman" and "conspiracy nut," even when they're true. It is worse in Washington D.C. to call someone a liar than for them to actually be a liar.

In Washington, that rule is part of how a person makes a living. Therefore, people in the news media have to show respect for the office of the presidency. The second reason is that the ideology of "journalistic objectivity" does not have a framework for determining what the truth is. It has no bias for truth. "Journalistic objectivity" says on the one hand, so-and-so said this; on the other hand, his opposition said that, and you, the reader, you, the viewer, you, the listener, it is up to you to decide what's true.

Donald Trump is an idiot in many ways, but he is a genius when it comes to media manipulation.

The Washington Post has now documented at least 25,000 or so lies by Donald Trump — and nothing has changed in his behavior. If anything, he has become more brazen.

I do not find fact-checking as done in that way to be very helpful, because Donald Trump is not being fact-checked as he says the lies. If a person reads the fact-checking article, they will learn what Trump said is not true. Trump's lie still has power because it is repeated by the president and circulated. Again, Donald Trump has been winning this battle against the mainstream news media every day and they still have not really caught up to his strategy. The New York Times still does not really know what to do about Donald Trump in this regard and others.

Is the reluctance, if not fear, of calling Donald Trump a liar a function of the corporate culture of American's mainstream news media? Are reporters and journalists afraid of being punished in terms of their careers if they tell the unpolished truth about Donald Trump?

I have a different idea of lying than most of the country's journalistic institutions do because they will almost never use the words "lie" or "liar" when it comes to the president or most politicians. Instead most in the mainstream news media will say, "We can't know his intent. We can't know what's in his heart." They assume that a lying politician may believe the nonsense that they are saying. My position is if a politician should know what is true and he does not, then he is lying.

I do not care what the excuse is. I don't care if Trump or some other politician thinks God is talking to him. I don't care if Trump is too disengaged from reality. I don't care if Trump is so much of a narcissist that he makes up stuff and he believes it. If it's the president's job to know something and he misinforms the country, then he's lying. Worry about his motivation some other time.

There has never been a historical moment in this country where a president, in this case Donald Trump, could be ignored because everyone knows he's so full of lies and nonsense.

Donald Trump might get reelected and destroy our democracy because so many in the mainstream news media are treating Donald Trump's lies and delusions as though it is all somehow normal.

Why has the White House press corps been so accommodating and enabling of Trump's lies? He also uses them as props for his fascist performances. Why do the members of the White House press corps not just walk about of the briefings or stand up and turn their backs to him?

They do not know how to do their job any other way. Their job is defined as getting whatever information is available at the White House. So even if it's lies, even if it's daily humiliation, the press corps has to go back the next day. Those reporters need to be on good terms with the people who are giving out the information — even if they're not giving out real or otherwise substantive information. It would be nice if the job of the White House press corps was to actually go out and find news, but that's not what they're there for. They're there as conduits for the White House.

There are few public voices who have been consistently warning the American people and the world about the realities of Trumpism and the threat Trump represents to the country. Why have the American people, largely, been in so much denial about the horrible reality that is the Age of Trump and what it means for the present and future of the country?

There's about a third of the country that lives inside this bubble where the truth never reaches them. They watch Fox News, they listen to conservative talk radio, they read Breitbart and Daily Caller and so forth, and they are lied to, and the lies that they are told make them feel good about themselves. They blame other people, mostly Black and brown people and Muslims and immigrants and so forth, sometimes Jews, for the problems in their lives, and it works for them. Such people are unreachable. You cannot get through to them.

There is a battle over the rest of the American people. Trump and his spokespeople and others who are doing all the lying on the right have a gravitational effect on the entire public discourse.

It began initially with Ronald Reagan and then went into warp drive with Newt Gingrich. But before Ronald Reagan, and especially before Gingrich, both parties pretty much had an idea where the goalposts were on what you could get away with in terms of not telling the truth. There were a lot of problems. Nixon was a big problem, Lyndon Johnson was a big problem, but still people understood what was all right and what wasn't all right, and then Reagan and Gingrich just started making stuff up all the time. They did this with no consideration for the truth — and they discovered that the media wouldn't call them on it.

The American right-wing learned that the American people did not care enough. As long as the news media was attacked as having a "liberal bias" it did away with the problem of them being called on their lies. This dynamic expanded and grew until Donald Trump could run for president with his claims that Barack Obama was an illegitimate president because he was born in Kenya. There were 30 or 40% of Trump voters believing that Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring inside a pizza parlor in Washington. They actually believed that.

Now the country is facing QAnon nuttiness with millions of people believing such nonsense because as a country we have just completely lost track of the truth in our political discourse. As Hannah Arendt warned, "This is how you create a dictatorship. You destroy the idea of truth."

Why this obsessive narrative and all these expeditions out to Trumplandia to talk with "white working class" and other Trump followers by the mainstream American news media? What is there left to learn? The research shows that Trump's voters are driven by racism, white supremacy, misogyny and authoritarianism, if not outright fascism and in some cases Nazism.

They just have to be defeated. Enough is enough. We have to beat them into the ground as hard as we can and let them start over. For example, the Lincoln Project is seeking to destroy every single Republican senator because they believe that the Republican Party cannot be saved. It's been taken over by crazy people, by corrupt people, by the equivalent of a mafia gang, and they just have to be beaten. There is no sense in trying to talk sense into them anymore.

Fox News really is sports talk radio for conservatives. What are the implications of how American politics is now treated like some type of sport by the right wing?

I recall an observation that Noam Chomsky made when I was writing my first book. He said, "What we need in this country is a politics where people care as much about sports as they do about politics, because if you listen to people on sports radio, they're very knowledgeable in a way that people did not have the same passion about the Democratic and Republican candidates." And then there was the rise of talk radio and the internet and it brought in all this passion — but it seems to only exist on one side. The conservative side is driven like mad to care about every little thing. By comparison liberals do not feel that way. Liberals would let the people who are in charge do the right thing.

Liberals trust scientists and want to let them be the experts. Almost every single-issue group is a conservative group. They win. 90% of the country wants stronger gun control, but we're not getting it because the 5-10% that doesn't want it has a stronger voice than the 90% because they're so dedicated. They vote only on this issue, and you can't say that about really any issue for liberals. We see this on Fox News and on right-wing talk radio.

When Trumpists say that "all politicians lie" and "Trump is no worse than Obama," and the news media is being "mean" and "unfair" to Donald Trump, how do you respond?

The New York Times tried to answer that question about Obama. Trump followers say that, "Why all the fuss about Donald Trump lying? Why don't you explain that Obama lied too?" The New York Times looked at the entire eight-year record of Obama's presidency and they found 12 false claims over eight years, none of which he repeated, all of which he then corrected when he found out that what he had said was not true. Trump can tell 12 falsehoods in 10 minutes. He does it all the time. There is no comparison between Trump and Obama. Some presidents lied a lot. Trump is in his own category. Trump lies about absolutely everything, and he gives his cabinet and his advisors permission in doing so to lie about everything as well.

Are our expectations of the American public too high or too low in terms of their understanding of politics, generally, and capacity to intervene against and reject Trump's lies, specifically?

Too many Americans have had a full meal of bullshit and now they have no way to judge good and bad, right and wrong. I'm very angry at the people who support Donald Trump because they are destroying my country. They are responsible for putting people in cages and separating families. A lot of Trump's supporters do not know any better. Some of them are just terrible people. I do not really care why people think what they think anymore, I just want to beat them. Trump's supporters are on the wrong side.

Does Donald Trump believe his lies? Or is this all some type of performance?

All that Donald Trump cares about is winning the next five minutes — and he only really cares about the next minute or so. Trump is always doing the wrong thing. Trump is a toddler and he just wants to have his belly stroked every minute or so and then he forgets that it happened.

What is your greatest hope in this moment? What is your greatest fear?

My hope is that we turn this ocean liner around in the 2020 election. I hope that the Republicans are defeated, that Trump is defeated, that the Supreme Court is made rational, and we start moving the country back in the direction of sanity and decency. My fear is that the upcoming election is the last time we actually have a chance to save the United States from an American form of fascism. I'm only 60, but I'm an American historian, and I don't think things have ever been this bad since the Civil War. I wish there was more of a sense of alarm among the institutions that really matter to this country's democracy.

'Donald Trump is an idiot in many ways — but he is a genius when it comes to media manipulation': expert

Donald Trump has publicly lied at least 20,000 times since taking office, according to the Washington Post. He does this in part because he has shown himself to be mentally unwell, if not a sociopath. But he also lies because he is a fascist authoritarian. For such leaders, lies are a way of assaulting reality and truth as a means of achieving unlimited power. These explanations are not discrete. They overlap with one another.

In a season of massive death, Donald Trump and his regime's lies about the coronavirus are a public health emergency – one which has killed at least 216,000 people in the United States.

Donald Trump and his regime's lies have also severely damaged America's prestige, alliances and global power. The country's enemies have also been emboldened by the Trump regime's lies and overall lack of consistency in foreign policy and principles.

Most important, Trump and his regime's policy of lying (in conjunction with wanton cruelty and other evil) has undermined American democracy. A common understanding of reality is the foundation of a health democracy. The Trump regime's lies and those of its agents are rotting that foundation.

In "The Death of Truth," Michiko Kakutani explains that the damage Trump has done to the country's institutions and foreign policy will take "years to repair."

"And to the degree that his election was a reflection of larger dynamics in society—from the growing partisanship in politics, to the profusion of fake stories on social media, to our isolation in filter bubbles—his departure from the scene will not restore truth to health and well-being, at least not right away," Kakutani writes.

Why is Donald Trump such a powerful and effective liar? Why has the mainstream American news media largely surrendered to his lies, and by doing so normalized them? Would more aggressive fact-checking have blunted Donald Trump and his regime's strategy of lying? What explains why the mainstream American news media as a whole refused — and for the most part, continues to refuse — to describe Donald Trump and his regime accurately as being fascist and authoritarian?

In an effort answer these questions, I recently spoke with Eric Alterman, a columnist at The Nation and the author of more than 10 books, including the bestseller "What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News." His latest book is "Lying in State: Why Presidents Lie and Why Trump is Worse."

Why are there now so many more voices in the mainstream American news media who, several weeks from Election Day, are finally using language such as "fascism" and "authoritarianism" to describe Trump and his regime? This was obvious several years ago. Why the delay? What were they waiting for?

There are many disincentives to tell the truth about Donald Trump. The most obvious one is that he's the President of the United States and people consider it disrespectful to use certain words about the president, like "liar" and "racist" and "conman" and "conspiracy nut," even when they're true. It is worse in Washington D.C. to call someone a liar than for them to actually be a liar.

In Washington, that rule is part of how a person makes a living. Therefore, people in the news media have to show respect for the office of the presidency. The second reason is that the ideology of "journalistic objectivity" does not have a framework for determining what the truth is. It has no bias for truth. "Journalistic objectivity" says on the one hand, so-and-so said this; on the other hand, his opposition said that, and you, the reader, you, the viewer, you, the listener, it is up to you to decide what's true.

Donald Trump is an idiot in many ways, but he is a genius when it comes to media manipulation.

The Washington Post has now documented at least 25,000 or so lies by Donald Trump — and nothing has changed in his behavior. If anything, he has become more brazen.

I do not find fact-checking as done in that way to be very helpful, because Donald Trump is not being fact-checked as he says the lies. If a person reads the fact-checking article, they will learn what Trump said is not true. Trump's lie still has power because it is repeated by the president and circulated. Again, Donald Trump has been winning this battle against the mainstream news media every day and they still have not really caught up to his strategy. The New York Times still does not really know what to do about Donald Trump in this regard and others.

Is the reluctance, if not fear, of calling Donald Trump a liar a function of the corporate culture of American's mainstream news media? Are reporters and journalists afraid of being punished in terms of their careers if they tell the unpolished truth about Donald Trump?

I have a different idea of lying than most of the country's journalistic institutions do because they will almost never use the words "lie" or "liar" when it comes to the president or most politicians. Instead most in the mainstream news media will say, "We can't know his intent. We can't know what's in his heart." They assume that a lying politician may believe the nonsense that they are saying. My position is if a politician should know what is true and he does not, then he is lying.

I do not care what the excuse is. I don't care if Trump or some other politician thinks God is talking to him. I don't care if Trump is too disengaged from reality. I don't care if Trump is so much of a narcissist that he makes up stuff and he believes it. If it's the president's job to know something and he misinforms the country, then he's lying. Worry about his motivation some other time.

There has never been a historical moment in this country where a president, in this case Donald Trump, could be ignored because everyone knows he's so full of lies and nonsense.

Donald Trump might get reelected and destroy our democracy because so many in the mainstream news media are treating Donald Trump's lies and delusions as though it is all somehow normal.

Why has the White House press corps been so accommodating and enabling of Trump's lies? He also uses them as props for his fascist performances. Why do the members of the White House press corps not just walk about of the briefings or stand up and turn their backs to him?

They do not know how to do their job any other way. Their job is defined as getting whatever information is available at the White House. So even if it's lies, even if it's daily humiliation, the press corps has to go back the next day. Those reporters need to be on good terms with the people who are giving out the information — even if they're not giving out real or otherwise substantive information. It would be nice if the job of the White House press corps was to actually go out and find news, but that's not what they're there for. They're there as conduits for the White House.

There are few public voices who have been consistently warning the American people and the world about the realities of Trumpism and the threat Trump represents to the country. Why have the American people, largely, been in so much denial about the horrible reality that is the Age of Trump and what it means for the present and future of the country?

There's about a third of the country that lives inside this bubble where the truth never reaches them. They watch Fox News, they listen to conservative talk radio, they read Breitbart and Daily Caller and so forth, and they are lied to, and the lies that they are told make them feel good about themselves. They blame other people, mostly Black and brown people and Muslims and immigrants and so forth, sometimes Jews, for the problems in their lives, and it works for them. Such people are unreachable. You cannot get through to them.

There is a battle over the rest of the American people. Trump and his spokespeople and others who are doing all the lying on the right have a gravitational effect on the entire public discourse.

It began initially with Ronald Reagan and then went into warp drive with Newt Gingrich. But before Ronald Reagan, and especially before Gingrich, both parties pretty much had an idea where the goalposts were on what you could get away with in terms of not telling the truth. There were a lot of problems. Nixon was a big problem, Lyndon Johnson was a big problem, but still people understood what was all right and what wasn't all right, and then Reagan and Gingrich just started making stuff up all the time. They did this with no consideration for the truth — and they discovered that the media wouldn't call them on it.

The American right-wing learned that the American people did not care enough. As long as the news media was attacked as having a "liberal bias" it did away with the problem of them being called on their lies. This dynamic expanded and grew until Donald Trump could run for president with his claims that Barack Obama was an illegitimate president because he was born in Kenya. There were 30 or 40% of Trump voters believing that Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring inside a pizza parlor in Washington. They actually believed that.

Now the country is facing QAnon nuttiness with millions of people believing such nonsense because as a country we have just completely lost track of the truth in our political discourse. As Hannah Arendt warned, "This is how you create a dictatorship. You destroy the idea of truth."

Why this obsessive narrative and all these expeditions out to Trumplandia to talk with "white working class" and other Trump followers by the mainstream American news media? What is there left to learn? The research shows that Trump's voters are driven by racism, white supremacy, misogyny and authoritarianism, if not outright fascism and in some cases Nazism.

They just have to be defeated. Enough is enough. We have to beat them into the ground as hard as we can and let them start over. For example, the Lincoln Project is seeking to destroy every single Republican senator because they believe that the Republican Party cannot be saved. It's been taken over by crazy people, by corrupt people, by the equivalent of a mafia gang, and they just have to be beaten. There is no sense in trying to talk sense into them anymore.

Fox News really is sports talk radio for conservatives. What are the implications of how American politics is now treated like some type of sport by the right wing?

I recall an observation that Noam Chomsky made when I was writing my first book. He said, "What we need in this country is a politics where people care as much about sports as they do about politics, because if you listen to people on sports radio, they're very knowledgeable in a way that people did not have the same passion about the Democratic and Republican candidates." And then there was the rise of talk radio and the internet and it brought in all this passion — but it seems to only exist on one side. The conservative side is driven like mad to care about every little thing. By comparison liberals do not feel that way. Liberals would let the people who are in charge do the right thing.

Liberals trust scientists and want to let them be the experts. Almost every single-issue group is a conservative group. They win. 90% of the country wants stronger gun control, but we're not getting it because the 5-10% that doesn't want it has a stronger voice than the 90% because they're so dedicated. They vote only on this issue, and you can't say that about really any issue for liberals. We see this on Fox News and on right-wing talk radio.

When Trumpists say that "all politicians lie" and "Trump is no worse than Obama," and the news media is being "mean" and "unfair" to Donald Trump, how do you respond?

The New York Times tried to answer that question about Obama. Trump followers say that, "Why all the fuss about Donald Trump lying? Why don't you explain that Obama lied too?" The New York Times looked at the entire eight-year record of Obama's presidency and they found 12 false claims over eight years, none of which he repeated, all of which he then corrected when he found out that what he had said was not true. Trump can tell 12 falsehoods in 10 minutes. He does it all the time. There is no comparison between Trump and Obama. Some presidents lied a lot. Trump is in his own category. Trump lies about absolutely everything, and he gives his cabinet and his advisors permission in doing so to lie about everything as well.

Are our expectations of the American public too high or too low in terms of their understanding of politics, generally, and capacity to intervene against and reject Trump's lies, specifically?

Too many Americans have had a full meal of bullshit and now they have no way to judge good and bad, right and wrong. I'm very angry at the people who support Donald Trump because they are destroying my country. They are responsible for putting people in cages and separating families. A lot of Trump's supporters do not know any better. Some of them are just terrible people. I do not really care why people think what they think anymore, I just want to beat them. Trump's supporters are on the wrong side.

Does Donald Trump believe his lies? Or is this all some type of performance?

All that Donald Trump cares about is winning the next five minutes — and he only really cares about the next minute or so. Trump is always doing the wrong thing. Trump is a toddler and he just wants to have his belly stroked every minute or so and then he forgets that it happened.

What is your greatest hope in this moment? What is your greatest fear?

My hope is that we turn this ocean liner around in the 2020 election. I hope that the Republicans are defeated, that Trump is defeated, that the Supreme Court is made rational, and we start moving the country back in the direction of sanity and decency. My fear is that the upcoming election is the last time we actually have a chance to save the United States from an American form of fascism. I'm only 60, but I'm an American historian, and I don't think things have ever been this bad since the Civil War. I wish there was more of a sense of alarm among the institutions that really matter to this country's democracy.

Cornel West explains the rhetorical trick 'fascist' Trump uses to beat his audience into submission

Eleven days ago, Donald Trump was hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus. His administration continues to hide the truth about Trump's health status.

Contrary to official word from Trump's mouthpieces, Olivia Nuzzi of New York Magazine reports that Trump was at one point severely ill and at substantial risk of not surviving:

Donald Trump was on the phone, and he was talking about dying. It was Saturday, October 3, and while his doctor had told the outside world that the president's symptoms were nothing to worry about, Trump, cocooned in his suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, was telling those close to him something very different.

"I could be one of the diers," he said. ...

Nine months into the pandemic and one month away from Election Day, the president considered for the first time that the disease killing him in the polls, threatening his political future, might just kill him, too. On the phone he remarked sarcastically, "This change of scenery has been great."… Then he admitted something scary. That how he felt might not mean much in the end.

"This thing could go either way. It's tricky. They told me it's tricky," the president said. "You can tell it can go either way."

More incredibly, the New York Times reports that Donald Trump planned to dress as Superman on his release from the hospital, reveling in his pretend-Übermensch status to thrill his supporters:

In several phone calls last weekend from the presidential suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Mr. Trump shared an idea he was considering: When he left the hospital, he wanted to appear frail at first when people saw him, according to people with knowledge of the conversations. But underneath his button-down dress shirt, he would wear a Superman T-shirt, which he would reveal as a symbol of strength when he ripped open the top layer. He ultimately did not go ahead with the stunt.

Trump is an expert political performance artist, a professional wrestling heel who is also the (illegitimate) president of the United States. Contrary to the hopes of too many members of the chattering class, Trump's brush with death has not humbled him or caused some type of personal revelation that would cause him to become less cruel, vile and tasteless.

While in the hospital and during his supposed convalescence, Donald Trump has continued his fascist authoritarian behavior, demanding that leading Democrats like Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton be charged with treason for their supposed "coup" attempt. During a phone interview with Fox News last Thursday, Trump continued his attacks on Sen. Kamala Harris, the first black woman to be nominated on a major-party presidential ticket, calling her a "monster" and a "communist," among other slurs.

As befits a malignant, narcissistic cult leader, Trump is again holding rallies where his followers can display their love and devotion to him, even though he is likely still contagious with the coronavirus and few attendees at his rallies wear masks. As the leader of a literal death cult, Donald Trump has been fully transformed into a human bioweapon. He is now an example for his followers, who are willing to do his bidding whatever that entails.

Several of Donald Trump's followers were recently arrested by the FBI for plotting to kidnap Michigan's Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and perhaps kill her. These right-wing terrorists also planned to attack police and other law enforcement agents if need be. The Trump regime has never explicitly disavowed the right-wing militias and other terrorist groups who serve as the president's foot soldiers and hooligans.

Given Donald Trump's manifest evil, a not-insignificant number of Americans were happy that he was sickened by COVID-19. For them, Trump's illness was a form of karmic justice, in which a man who has hurt so many through his negligent or criminal response to the pandemic (and other willfully cruel policies) was finally receiving his comeuppance. There was also the hope that Trump's illness might end the national nightmare of his presidency.

What do such emotions and reactions — including the obligatory demands that Trump must be sent positive wishes and prayers — reveal about America's culture at present? Is there a "right" or "wrong" way for the American people to react to Trump's illness? Given their professed values, should liberals and progressives be held to a higher standard in their reactions to Donald Trump's encounter with a life-threatening disease?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Dr. Cornel West. He is a philosopher, public intellectual, activist, scholar and author of several bestselling books, including "Democracy Matters," "Race Matters" and "Black Prophetic Fire."

West is professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard and a professor emeritus at Princeton. In this wide-ranging conversation he also shares his thoughts on democracy and the recent presidential and vice-presidential debates, as well as how the American people should best focus their emotions and energies once Trump is no longer president.

You can also listen to my conversation with Dr. Cornel West on my podcast "The Truth Report" or through the player embedded below.


You are a philosopher. How should people manage their feelings about Donald Trump having been sickened by the coronavirus? Is it wrong to be happy at the possibility of Donald Trump receiving his comeuppance and karmic punishment from COVID? He has done so much evil.

What you are feeling is Janus-faced. Your feelings have two sides to them. Any kind of love and justice has to have serious accountability. In that way, Donald Trump has been unaccountable. As such, death would be a certain kind of accountability. There is nothing wrong with that conception of accountability. But the other side is a certain kind of contempt and revenge in the form of "You did it to us. Now we're going to do it to you. You've been doing us in. Now somebody — God, providence, fate, fortune — is going to do you in."

Democratic accountability is not same thing as revenge or divine retribution or the like. It is of a different register. Democracy is about human justice. Democracy is for we mortals. It's for we finite folk. And we finite folk, we've got to have some control over our propensity toward contempt and revenge, or it just adds more to the contempt and revenge in the world. But if we lean into love and justice and there's some accountability — with Trump getting sick, it may have been a certain kind of accountability, in terms of the virus coming back to haunt him — there is a different kind of spirit at work, one that you want to preserve.

Are liberals and progressives allowed to enjoy schadenfreude, those feelings of joy at another person's just and deserved misfortune? Or is that sentiment outside of what it should mean to be a progressive?

The best of what it means to be a progressive is that one never succumbs to any kind of bitterness, revenge, hoping somebody collapses or even laughing at somebody's misfortune or downfall. You are using that person, such as Trump, as a point of reference for your own sense of who you are and what you're doing. Don't surrender those values.

That's the reason why Jesus said, "Love your enemies." If you are really concerned about poor people and the wretched of the earth, then when you love your enemy, you're not loving the part of them that are gangsters. You're not loving their hatred. You're not loving their domination. You are just recognizing that they too are made in the image of God. Therefore you are using the point of reference for who you are, in the best of your own tradition as a barometer and guidepost. There is nothing sadomasochistic about loving one's enemies. Do not ever let them set the terms upon which you define yourself and your reality. If you do such a thing, you will be reacting to their hatred your whole life.

What of this expectation that the American people should send Donald Trump goodwill because he was hospitalized and apparently in perilous condition? As some have pointed out, such an expectation is emotionally abusive, in which where the victim is somehow supposed to empathize with and care for the person who is hurting them.

You must ensure that you are living a high-quality life in your own mind, heart and soul. When you are wishing Donald Trump goodwill, all you are saying is, "I refuse to be the gangster you are because you have been giving us ill will." I do believe that the golden rule is still worthwhile. And if a higher power takes Donald Trump away, then he's gone.

How does one resolve an expectation that they should wish goodwill on an evil person such as Trump?

There is an element of a person's humanity that is never fully reducible to one's gangster and thuggish activity. That's why the golden rule still has some applicability. Donald Trump still has loved ones. He still has folks who care for him. That means he is still a human being. Once you completely remove someone from the human family, you end up doing the same things that have been done to Black people with racism and white supremacy. If you let yourself be seduced by such forces and put people outside the human family, than you end up in the gutter along with the people who committed that first wrong. I refuse to go there.

The type of conversation we are engaging in is very rare in America's public discourse. The Age of Trump and this season of death has created a moral test for the United States and its people.

We saw that during the vice-presidential debate. The spiritual decay is so deep. Donald Trump has contributed to such a debased public culture and political culture that you have someone like Mike Pence, who can rationalize American fascism with a smile and be calm doing it. The moderator, Susan Page, made no attempt to keep Pence accountable whatsoever. Kamala Harris was doing the best she could to preserve her dignity. She knew Pence would be lying nonstop. She knows the disrespect is coming at her and the arrogance is flowing from Pence right at her. The condescension is flowing. The haughtiness is flowing against her too. Pence was trying to seize control of the debate and no one was trying to impose accountability on him. Kamala Harris tried several times. She did the best she could.

Pence's behavior during the debate was just the culture of neofascism in real time, done with a smile. We should not be overwhelmed and surprised by such an assault. We must be honest and candid about the depths of the decay and decrepitude that we as a nation are dealing with, in the form of Trump and Pence and their allies and movement.

When I see Mike Pence I think of Indiana, which was a fortress for the Ku Klux Klan during the early 20th century. In another era, Pence would be the type who could go from the Klavern to the boardroom of a bank. I worry that too many people believe that evil does not wear a business suit.

I believe that Mike Pence has been Trumpified. He has been shaped even more in the image of Donald Trump since becoming vice president. Pence loves the power. He loves the visibility. He loves the position of being vice president. In that way we can see the deepening corruption of Mike Pence's soul. That is why Pence was overflowing with toxic masculinity during the debate. Pence acted like he does not have to listen to anyone. Somebody asks Pence a question and he responds like they are nonentities. Pence just decides to ignore them and say what he wants to say. When Kamala Harris would try to interject and have her time, Pence looked at her like, "Do you really expect me to respect you? I'm Mike Pence. I'm part of the neofascist culture. We don't respect people like you." In doing that, Pence was also disrespecting the American people as the audience for what should have been a very important dialogue.

Any discussion of Mike Pence should also include "Christian fascist" in how he is described.

Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. He got 65% of white men and over 50% of white women. That is another sign of the cultural decay in this country. White supremacy is the public face of American neofascism. From the Ku Klux Klan to the White Citizens Councils, white Christians have always played a fundamental role in promoting white supremacist attitudes and practices.

In terms of deliberative democracy or communicative democracy, what did you see when you watched these first two debates?

Public life in America has become so emptied out and vacuous that the very notion of there being a public conversation, let alone a high-quality public conversation, is gone. The debates are an empty theatrical spectacle of talking points, at their best, and at their worst just bully-driven attacks and assaults on each other. I mean, Harris is much more intellectually talented than [Pence] is. In that way Joe Biden did not have any chance at all in his debate with Donald Trump.

Trump's debate with Biden was an exercise in fascism and authoritarianism. Trump won that debate, by those criteria. Unfortunately, too many people in the mainstream media and the general public keep applying old, comfortable standards, and in doing so frame their understanding of Trump's strategy, and this political moment more generally, around polls and focus groups. Trump's goal was to mock the premise of even having a debate. It was all the worst sort of demagogic, authoritarian political theater for him.

I would go even farther. I would say that Trump was not only was mocking, but fascist. One of the rhetorical strategies of a fascist is to beat your audience down, make the people feel as though there is no hope. The people must be made to feel that there is no other possibility. They may hate you, the authoritarian fascist and demagogue, but they hate the whole political process too. The people then become downtrodden in spirit: Their spirits are so crushed they cannot be moved to vote for anybody.

When Trump left the debate, he and his people likely said, "You not only won, you achieved your objective. You beat Biden down. You beat the moderator down. You beat the audience down. You beat the American people down."

We are in a world-historical moment. As Election Day approaches, and whatever may happen next in this country it feels exhilarating, scary and exhausting all at the same time. As human beings we do not see a moment of such consequence very often, if ever, in our lifetimes. Please help me navigate those feelings – feelings which I am sure many other people in this country and around the world are also experiencing. It is like rollercoaster of sorts.

It is like living in the 1960s in Africa, Asia, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and the apartheid American South. Between 1955 to 1970 was to live in the most world-historical transforming moment in a very long time. At present, we are living in a similar moment, with the Age of Trump and this upcoming election. But in this moment as compared to the previous one, there is ecological catastrophe, economic catastrophe, social catastrophe and spiritual catastrophe. There is a lack of ability for too many to imagine a world and reality that is worth fighting for, sacrificing for and even dying for.

Let us assume that there is some type of justice in the universe and Donald Trump is voted out on Election Day or otherwise removed from office. When that happens, there are going to be parties and celebrations in the streets. A joyous wave will sweep over the United States. What should good Americans do with that energy going forward?

If the leader of a neofascist movement dies, that is the easy victory. Now we have to deal with the source of the fascist movement itself. To do that here and now, American society must reshape a whole discourse and public conversation to make sure that poor people and other vulnerable people are at the center of the conversation and the agenda for change. If we maintain our core values and commitments, then if we are killed in the struggle we can say, "Here's the gift. Something bigger than me, because my life itself was a gift that came from something bigger than me." That sacrifice helps to sustain and create the positive change.

'Thriller where horror is combined with farce': TV critic breaks down the spectacle of the Trump Show

The Age of Trump is a horrible never-ending story. One page is turned, and another appears. "The End" is nowhere in sight. Although Election Day 2020 is less than a month away, the days and weeks ahead feel interminable.

As a story the Age of Trump is simultaneously drama, comedy and tragedy. In terms of genres, it is a spy thriller (Russia's control and influence over Trump), a crime story (Trump and his taxes, a political mafia family, vast corruption), dystopian speculative fiction (how could so many horrible things all happen at once?), and a political drama and documentary (how fascism came to America). Donald Trump's story, unfortunately, is also a distasteful softcore farce (considering the sordid details of his known or alleged affairs).

In the season of death caused by the coronavirus and Trump's negligent and criminal response, life in the Age of Trump is also a horror movie.

At some point last week Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus. On Friday he was hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center. The Trump regime, of course, distorts, lies, dissembles, circulates disinformation and refuses to tell the whole truth about Trump's health and related matters — including just how many people in the White House and Trump's inner circle have contracted COVID, and how and when the infection began.

As a story, Trump's personal experience with the coronavirus, and the regime's reporting on it, resembles a North Korean and/or Russian propaganda film. After what Trump has presented as a miraculous recovery — quite likely a temporary steroid high — he was released from the hospital on Monday. For his cult members and other followers, Trump's saga of infection and "recovery" makes him even more into a type of Christ figure, or an Übermensch blessed with "good" genes.

In a Monday interview on Fox News, Trump campaign adviser Mercedes Schlapp had this to say about Trump: "He obviously has stayed in contact not only with the campaign but also talking directly to the American people in saying, 'We're going to get through this. We're going to defeat this virus. We're not going to surrender to it like Joe Biden would surrender to this virus.'" She suggested that Donald Trump is "the ultimate fighter."

Such a narrative is another example of Trump's fascist allure and power and the threat it poses to American democracy. At the Independent, philosopher Jason Stanley, author of "How Fascism Works," warns: "In this kind of politics the leader is the nation. The leader is supposed to be strong. They're just trying to represent that he's strong and it doesn't affect him and it won't affect the nation. [President Jair] Bolsonaro in Brazil did the same thing."

On Monday via Twitter, Stanley elaborated further:

In fascist ideology, the enemy is diseased and weak. The fascist leader is masculine and strong. As Bolsonaro said in March, if he gets Covid, because of his history as an athlete, it won't be an issue. The enemy — minority groups and political opponents — are weak and diseased.

Don't be afraid of Covid, says our leader, who has soundly defeated it. It only harms the weak. If you are harmed by it, you were already weak.

Donald Trump, a reality TV star and con man — and now a fascist, white supremacist cult leader — is an amazing story that defies almost all explanation, except in a kakistocracy and pathocracy that has amused itself to death.

Ultimately, TrumpWorld is very real. Unfortunately, the American people are trapped in it, with no obvious way to escape. Perhaps even more worrisome, many of them do not want to.

In this story, what type of character is Donald Trump? How does he imagine his role? How did Donald Trump master the new rules of television and the media in the 21st century to gain so much power? As Election Day finally approaches — with an unknown outcome and the real possibility that Trump will use legal and illegal means to steal the election — what would be the perfect ending for Donald Trump the character, and his bizarre epic story?

In an effort to answer these questions I spoke with James Poniewozik. Once a writer for Salon, he is now chief television critic at the New York Times and author of the new book "Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America."

Does Donald Trump really exist?

Part of my premise is that Donald Trump is not a person. Donald Trump as we know him and as he matters to us is really more a mediated character and performance. The performance has evolved over time in response to the rewards he has received being a celebrity. If the real Donald Trump does exist, I am not sure that he even knows who he is anymore.

What happens when the person playing the character is lost in their performance?

There is a danger for someone with power and responsibility over others — in this case a whole country — that once you reach that point a person can lose their core self. A person is just a persona and they know what to do in response to certain expectations and stimulation. Your behavior is dictated by how you have been received by others and the reactions that your behavior engenders in others. Certainly, that performance can be brilliant in show business. In a way, it can be very effective in politics. But governing a country involves making decisions that have to do with much more serious matters than how you are perceived and the impressions you are making on other people.

For better or for worse, Donald Trump was the most entertaining thing on television during the 2016 campaign. In many ways, that remains true even at the end of his first term. Trump is a product of an American culture of spectacle and distraction. That is the foundation of his power.

The metaphor that I like to use for Trump running for president in this media era was like Julius Caesar taking power in Rome. Trump spent his entire career mastering the weapons which are used for combat in the television era. Trump did this as a tabloid figure. He's done it as a reality TV figure. He has done it across various arenas, and so much of it was directly translatable to politics. Trump's skill in the arena of this media age goes beyond his message to any particular segment of the electorate.

How do you assess Trump as a performer?

He's not a good actor in the sense that a film actor is. There's an essential difference between what a film actor does and what a reality TV performer does. When you play yourself as a character in reality TV what you are doing is being yourself but louder, presenting an exaggerated version of yourself. As far as acting — a skill that requires empathy and basically imagining that other people are real — you can see Trump's shortcomings whenever he has to visit the site of a tragedy or read off a teleprompter.

What Donald Trump does works pretty well for his particular style of political performance. For him, much of his message is about life as a zero-sum competition, conflict, winning and the idea that for you to get something, somebody else has to lose something. Trump's brand is based on those values.

Trump also has a great off-the-cuff, pugilistic sense of verbal combat. He is very good at throwing up a lot of dust and keeping people off balance. That has worked very well with the kind of persona that Trump was presenting as candidate and then as president. It is not necessarily a kind of performance that might have worked well for another person or a politician with a different message.

What is beguiling or compelling about Trump as a character for his supporters? I find him to be a repugnant human being, but he is infinitely watchable. I also believe he is a more sophisticated performer than people give him credit for.

For those who love him as president, he is someone who fights. That goes beyond policy. Trump seeks to inflame conflict rather than smooth it over. In a political debate there are always at least two messages going on: One is the text of what you're saying and one is this meta-narrative of, "In the way that I debate, here's how I'm going to champion you as president."

Among people who hate Donald Trump — and obviously there are myriad political reasons that people hate him — I think part of the heart of it is that he is a culture warrior instinctually. Beyond the strategic embrace of certain public policy issues, he has a sense for locating exposed nerves and jabbing at them, inciting conflict in a way in which it will leave the most bad feelings after it's finished.

What happens to truth and people's understanding of reality when they have to confront a person such as Trump, who is so skilled in terms of being a performer and a professional liar?

All the places where Trump has thrived have been fields where there is a thin boundary between fact and fiction. This is true of the New York tabloids, professional wrestling, reality TV and now being president of the United States. Trump has created a type of permission structure which dispenses with the idea of verifiable, objective reality and just takes cues from the people that you have loyalty to. Authoritarian leaders like Trump cultivate a following by nurturing the idea that everyone is lying and the truth is always fuzzy.

What fantasies does Trump represent for the viewer, his public?

The fantasy of Trump has evolved from the 1980s to Trump as a presidential candidate.

The proto-Trump of the Reagan era was the fantasy of the lottery winner. He was somebody who intuited very early on that it was more important to look like a very successful businessman than to actually be the most successful businessman. Trump understood how to leverage appearance, which in turn allowed him to build a brand. The easiest way to accomplish that is with cartoon symbolism, a tower with your name on it in three-foot tall golden letters or a helicopter with your name on the side.

It's a combination of that cartoonish fantasy of prosperity combined with the notion that — this is where the lottery-winner aspect enters in — that you don't need to change to be this way. This is part of what allows him to cultivate the blue-collar billionaire notion, and for Sean Hannity to push it later. Because this lottery-winner performance also allows people to imagine themselves as a rich person, not beholden to the proprieties of gatekeepers, not having to change yourself or your tastes or your likes.

Every iteration of Trump as a pop-culture character involves a notion of fighting and conflict and grievance. Those two elements were the form of Trump that ran for president and won.

How would you explain or track Donald Trump's career, relative to broader changes in the terrain of the American news media?

My book is basically a parallel story about the character of Donald Trump over the decades and the media that he evolved in sync with. The journey of the American media from when Trump was beginning his public career, basically around 1980, until he ran for president is also the journey from the mass media of the mid-20th century to the fragmented media of the 21st century.

When Trump started, if you put something on television it had to appeal to tens of millions of people. There was a big-tent strategy of programming. You had to tailor things to a broader audience. As cable developed, as the internet developed, the outcome was more outlets and more targeted programming. There were increasing rewards for more polarizing programming, whether it's entertainment or news, fiction or nonfiction. And that produces all sorts of things, be it provocative sensationalistic reality TV or be it Fox News and political talk radio.

This is a story of the media becoming a space where somebody as belligerent and pugnacious and outrageous as Donald Trump can successfully build a career and then become a political leader and run for president and win.

Would Donald Trump even be president if there had been a Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow who successfully confronted him during his first campaign? A public figure in the news media who was viewed with respect and trusted by the American public?

I do not believe so. It's not just that we no longer have a Murrow, it is that we no longer have Murrow's audience. There is no collective audience in America that is willing to accept that there are agreed-on facts and arbiters of truth. I do not believe that one could have someone go directly from hosting a TV program, like Trump did, to then becoming president of the United States until you had a media environment where politics was basically a form of entertainment combat that was carried out through the media.

Somebody like Trump, with his sense of showmanship and flimflam and exaggeration, could have had a successful business career in another era. P.T. Barnum existed long before television. But something significant had to change in media, and therefore in American political culture, before somebody like Donald Trump has got a serious shot at the presidency.

The Age of Trump is a perpetual cliffhanger. There is never any closure to the story, just one scandal and crisis after another. There is no emotional release and closure. The story never ends. What does that do to the American people?

It is exhausting. People are frazzled. It is not just all the horrible things that are happening, but that everything keeps accelerating without any release. There is nothing but a buildup of tension. This moment with Trump as president is like the difference between watching a blockbuster movie and watching a trailer for a movie. Trailers are not necessarily narrative — they just need to communicate that if you go to this movie you will be excited all the time.

Living in a movie trailer constantly, for the length of a movie, is really exhausting for most people. That may not be true for Donald Trump, however, which may be one reason that he is so well-suited for this era. I honestly believe that there is something about Donald Trump where he feels that conflict and agitation are the best and most productive state of mankind.

What genre is the Age of Trump? Is it comedy, tragedy, drama or something else?

A kind of thriller where horror is combined with farce.

How would you write the end of the Age of Trump? If you were crafting the story, what would the resolution to the story and the main character be?

I feel like the truest story for the character Donald Trump is for him never to be defeated in his mind. That is Trump's narrative. As a character in the story, he will never acknowledge getting his comeuppance, disgrace, failure or punishment. He is not capable of acknowledging it. The end of the story that is the Age of Trump, whether it is Donald Trump actually victorious or Donald Trump utterly disgraced and a disparaged figure in history, is him with his arms raised in victory — because that is the way he sees himself.

I keep thinking about "The Sopranos," and Tony Soprano tripping on peyote during the final season. Tony has killed his nephew, Christopher, and he is saying, "I get it! I get it!" In Tony's mind he is at one with the universe and doing the right thing. Tony Soprano, like Donald Trump, is not capable of seeing himself otherwise.

Will the end of the Age of Trump be as subjective as the end of "The Sopranos"?

I do not think the screen will cut to black. There is not going to be a question of what ultimately happens with Donald Trump. But no matter what, there is not going to be consensus on whether Trump was victorious or defeated, whether he got his just deserts or whether he was robbed, whether he was a hero or a villain. No amount of evidence is going to create consensus on anything about Donald Trump. With "The Sopranos," people are still arguing about what happened to Tony at the end of the series. It doesn't matter what the definitive explanation is. For Donald Trump and Tony Soprano, there is going to be an argument no matter what happens at the end.

Will illness finally break Trump followers' rabid allegiance to him? 6 mental health experts explain

On Friday, Donald Trump was hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center near Washington after testing positive for the coronavirus and exhibiting symptoms. His wife Melania and other members of Trump's inner circle have also tested positive for the coronavirus.

Given the consistent strategy of disinformation, contempt for the American people and outright lies that have come from the Trump White House, all reports about Trump's health and the timeline for his infection must be viewed with suspicion. It remains unclear exactly when Trump tested positive and was diagnosed with COVID last week, but it appears likely that even after knowing he had been exposed to the virus, the president put his staff members, financial donors and family members, as well as members of the public at risk. He could well have exposed Joe Biden and members of Biden's campaign team to the virus during their debate last Tuesday, although Biden has so far tested negative.

Trump's condition has been described in contradictory ways, and reports from his medical team have been inconsistent. It is possible Trump will soon be released from the hospital -- and also possible that he faces a long and serious illness.

Trump was clearly unwell when he spoke to the American people on Saturday by video. That same day, the White House released a series of photos which purported to show the president "hard at work." In fact, the photos showed Trump using a marker to sign blank pieces of paper positioned next to empty plastic binders. On Sunday, Trump, eager for narcissistic fuel, was briefly driven through the area around Walter Reed Medical Center so he could acknowledge his followers gathered outside. He is suffering from a highly infectious disease and instead of remaining in quarantine chose to imperil the health and lives of his Secret Service detail and whoever else he came in close contact with.

All this intrigue and lack of transparency by the Trump regime is another example of how the White House has become the Kremlin on the Potomac, a place where the public is left to decipher the schemes and machinations of the ruling party.

Donald Trump is not a normal president (or human being). He is a fascist authoritarian who leads a cult of personality and revels in what he considers "alpha-male" displays of toughness and violence. He presents himself as being immortal. To his cult followers, he functions as a type of godhead whom they love and to whom they constantly express devotion. Trumpism is a form of collective narcissism and groupthink in which the self is subsumed by the libidinal, violent and other pathological emotions and behaviors of the mass movement.

Karma has asserted itself: Donald Trump has now been inflicted with the same disease that he lied about, showing no human concern for the 210,000 Americans who have died so far. This is the same disease for which he actively sabotaged relief efforts and common-sense public health measures. In total, Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic is an act of de facto genocide against the American people, and should be prosecuted as criminal negligence and homicide.

As Dan Froomkin of Salon and Press Watch recently explained, it isn't gloating "to point out that this could have been avoided if Trump had taken the obvious and proper precautions that he petulantly and ignorantly chose not to":

The entirely self-inflicted nature of this tragedy is one of its central elements, as is the way Trump's incredible irresponsibility and arrogance was mimicked by his supporters, significantly exacerbating the pandemic…. But I fear that, especially if Trump's condition worsens, the attention will shift so entirely to the coverage of incremental developments and the political fallout that the American public will be deprived of this crucial context: He brought this upon himself.

Dan Kois' essay for Slate, "How Should We Feel About The Suffering of This Man?", channels what many Americans and others around the world are feeling about Trump suffering the effect of a disease he lied about, mocked and belittled, expressing callous indifference about the death and destruction it has inflicted:

The burst of unseemly glee that accompanied the news of the president's positive test was yet another salvo in this four-year war between my feelings, my intellect, and what I've always thought of as my morality. In 2020 the president's malignancy has expanded. He now directly threatens the lives of every person in America. Over 200,000 of them have died so far, in large part because of his incompetence and cruelty. And so hearing that the virus he has spent months downplaying, lying about, and ignoring has, at long last, stricken him was a moment of such narrative perfection that its power was nearly overwhelming.
I'm not inclined to condemn people for finding the news of the past 36 hours, in addition to alarming and embarrassing, richly comic. To laugh at the shitstorm currently overwhelming the Republican Party, including Trump, is not to disrespect life, as the outraged tone police might insist. To laugh at what the Republicans and Donald Trump have brought upon themselves is to respect life, to understand that to take wanton risks with life was always a fool's game.

How will Trump's followers respond to his diagnosis and hospitalization? How will they manifest and confront this cognitive dissonance? Trump and his supporters exist in a state of collective narcissism and mass delusion. Will his illness bind his followers closer to him? Or will they finally turn on Trump, seeing him exposed as not just a mere mortal but a lying hypocrite?

In an effort to answer these questions and to better understand Trump and his followers' relationship to one another in a time of plague and death — largely because of him — I asked several of the country's (and the world's) leading mental health experts for their thoughts and analyses.

Elizabeth Mika, counselor and therapist, contributor to the 2017 bestseller "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President":

The bond between a malignantly narcissistic leader and his followers, created by a narcissistic collusion — the belief in each other's specialness and exceptional greatness — is virtually unbreakable. To sever it, those individuals who worship and unreservedly trust their leader would have to experience a life-shattering catastrophe for which the leader would be directly and indisputably responsible. But even, then their need to maintain their beliefs and thus their identity would likely override reality and even solidify their beliefs in the leader's specialness and infallibility, and, by association, their own.

We can actually see this in Trump's supporters' reactions to the pandemic in general and his own infection specifically. They deny the reality and severity of the pandemic and act accordingly, endangering themselves and others; and when they can no longer do so, they attribute it to nefarious plots designed to harm their leader and his plans to restore the country's — and their own — greatness. Trump's own illness has introduced some cognitive dissonance into those beliefs, which his supporters are trying to minimize by blaming it on others and shifting focus to other subjects.

I want to stress that those are normal defense mechanisms, commonly encountered in almost all of us, that we use in situations that challenge our worldview and cherished opinions.

But those defense mechanisms, when fortified by narcissism, become an emotional-cognitive web that ensnares and enslaves us, and blinds us to the reality of who we are and what the world around us is like.

Narcissism makes us part ways with reason, truth and reality itself, and instead create self-aggrandizing myths about our existence. All cults — religious, political, technological (yes) and others — are based on individual and collective narcissism of their members. Trumpism, with its imperviousness to facts, can be seen as a political cult, with a malignantly narcissistic leader at its center. Its members' main function is to maintain the leader's delusion of his greatness by providing constant affirmations of it, reality be damned. They, in turn, bask in his reflected glory, believing, erroneously, that his greatness and favors will rub off on them and fulfill their dreams.

Of course, none of that will happen and the cult will eventually collapse, usually with the demise of its leader. But even then, true believers will continue their worship. To this day, there are people who revere and miss some of the greatest tyrants in history. Our human propensity for self-deception, of the kind that protects our cherished and narcissistically embellished view of ourselves, our false self, is boundless.

Dr. Lance Dodes, former assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School; training and supervising analyst emeritus at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. He is also a contributor to "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump."

Interviews with Trump's most fervent supporters have repeatedly shown that they minimize or deny his lies, incompetence and absence of morality because they share his conviction that he is (as he has suggested, himself) a godlike figure protecting them against all they hate and fear. Like all populist tyrants, his actual characteristics and actions are, therefore, irrelevant or even praised (leading to increased violence among those who copy his violence). The fact that Trump now has the disease he mockingly said was not serious and would disappear is sadly very unlikely to have any more influence on this group than his past lies and self-contradictions.

Dr. John Gartner, psychologist, psychoanalyst and former professor at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School. Gartner is the founder of Duty to Warn, an organization working to raise awareness about the danger Trump poses to the U.S. and the world. He was also a contributor to "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump" and is featured in the documentary "Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump."

Malignant narcissists feel so special and entitled, they believe they are above laws of both man and nature — and because they are also psychopaths, they have no guilt or anxiety about the consequences of breaking those laws. What they can get away with is mind-boggling. Trump should have been successfully impeached 30 times over by now, having crashed through almost every redline we have. Yet thus far, he seemed to defy the laws of gravity — until he didn't.

He is like the old Warner Bros. cartoon characters who would go over a cliff, and just hang suspended in mid-air — until they suddenly plunged, "Trump seemed to defy the laws of science and disease. Then the virus caught up with him," read a headline from the Washington Post. "Invincibility punctured," read another.

There's a reason you don't see many retired drug dealers, and the Thousand-Year Reich ended in a bunker. Call it reality's revenge. Ultimately, malignant narcissists are self-destructive, as they and those that follow them off the cliff learn the hard way.

The laws of nature and karma can be suspended … until they aren't.

Dr. Bandy Lee, assistant clinical professor, Yale University School of Medicine and president of the World Mental Health Organization. Lee was editor of "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump."

Announcing his sickness is advantageous for him with his "base," since their first thought would not be: "You said this disease was on its way out!" — which is rational thinking. Their emotional response would more likely be isolated sympathy for him — never mind that he caused the sickness of millions — identification with him, since many will know by now someone who has fallen sick, and fearful idealization and even less criticism of him, since he is supposedly their only protector and they are defenseless without him. The posturing and grandiose claims arising out of his defensiveness will likely be more compelling to them than his actions.

Dr. Seth Norrholm, translational neuroscientist and one of the world's leading experts on post-traumatic stress disorder and fear. He is currently the scientific director at the Neuroscience Center for Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma (NeuroCAST) in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.

For his supporters, it is another opportunity for a reckoning with their support for Trump, given the fluid, ever-changing, and unpredictable nature of this president's behavior. For some, as exemplified by Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, Trump is the victim of an attempted coup: She tweeted: "Remember: China gave this virus to our President."

That perspective reflects a sense of collective, grandiose narcissism and will work for Fox News and will be echoed by millions. For others, they will have to ignore cognitive dissonance and allow for an acceptance of the president's "moving the goal posts" — starting with it's "their new hoax," moving to "the 15 [cases] within a couple of days is going to be close to down to zero," then to "I think I saved two, maybe two and a half million lives" and finally to "we'll produce a vaccine in record time."

Their support for the president is unwavering, even with the mental gymnastics required to go from hoax to vaccine. This too reflects cult psychology in that loyalty to the leader is maintained despite emerging evidence that he might be flawed. Yet for others, this represents a time to see the naked emperor, to change their beliefs about the deadly nature of the virus, and to actually start practicing mitigation techniques.

Dr. David Reiss, psychiatrist, expert in mental fitness evaluations and contributor to "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump."

Trump and his spokespersons have consistently presented information and opinions intended to strongly impact the emotional state of their followers. This leads vulnerable followers, who rely on their feelings to define reality rather than examining objective facts, to strongly "feel" that the "information" they are provided is accurate.

Feeling convinced, they will not explore or consider any other information or facts; they distrust, disbelieve and (angrily) reject as "fake" any contrary information; they disregard logical inconsistencies; and ultimately, they act decisively on the basis of the "information" provided (in a manner that meets the purposes of the Trump cabal). Despite the total inconsistency with objective facts, they continue to view Trump as essentially infallible, honor him with adulation, rally to his support — and project onto perceived "enemies" blame for any negative events that befall Trump or his admirers.

This is occurring at the current time when, even at their own peril and even though medical evidence and objective facts clearly indicate that Trump himself has dangerously ignored warnings and left himself, his administration and his followers vulnerable to COVID infection, Trump's followers continue to maintain convoluted explanations or conspiracy theories in order to justify feeling that they and Trump are innocent victims.

That illogical world view reinforces the belief that Trump is to be admired, adulated and held beyond reproach — particularly for tolerating the "slings and arrows" of "deviant enemies." Whether orchestrated or spontaneous, rallies and "counter-demonstrations" reinforce these emotions and whip followers into an irrational frenzy of Trump adulation and rage at perceived enemies.

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